Nissan needs to make the next-generation 2017 LEAF electric car have a range of at least 186 miles (300 km) in order to compete directly with first-generation hydrogen fuel cell cars due to come onto the market about the same time.
That’s the opinion of Nissan executive Andy Palmer, who talked candidly with Automotive News at last month’s Bejing Auto Show about the Japanese automaker’s future electric car plans.
While Palmer, Nissan’s Chief Planning Officer, was careful to avoid giving specifics, his interview gives the clearest indication yet that Nissan is preparing itself to launch a longer-range Nissan LEAF when it refreshes the model in a few years’ time.
When the LEAF first came to market in December 2010, it was the first all-electric mass-produced car to be made available globally. While the design today is very similar to that of the original 2011 model, the only real tweaks the car has had since launch come in the form of a more efficient drivetrain and power electronics system. This occured in 2013 when global production shifted from Japan to two additional facilities in the UK and the U.S., but since its launch, the LEAF has remained generally unchanged.
In the world of fast-moving developments in battery technology and electric drivetrains, that’s left Nissan with a problem: it’s LEAF is starting to look dated against more efficient cars like the BMW i3, and its range is being let down by cars like the Tesla Model S.
The solution, says Palmer, is a new battery technology which Nissan engineers are working hard on. Due to launch around 2017 — which we assume would coincide with the next-generation LEAF and perhaps the launch of an all-electric Infiniti model — the battery technology will be far more energy dense than current battery technology used by Nissan.
The higher the energy density, the more energy can be stored per unit mass. The more energy can be stored for a given weight or volume, the further a car can travel per charge.
“The battery chemistry is all about range and energy density. That’s where you see the technology moving very, very fast,” Palmer told Automotive News. “This really is the game-changing technology.”
This new battery technology, talked about by Palmer and other Nissan executives quite openly in the past, promises not only improved range per charge, but reduced cost and better longevity. It also hints at a future where cars can be built where the battery pack does not take up so much space.
Talking of design, Palmer’s colleague Mamoru Aoki — Nissan’s global design boss — hinted that the next-generation LEAF could be more conventional-looking than the current model. The current generation, he said, is just too geeky — too obviously an electric car.
“The current Leaf is aiming too much at an EV-like appearance,” Aoki said. “Tesla doesn’t look EV at all. The Tesla S just looks nice, very sporty, sleek, but very authentic.”
While Palmer nor Aoki would comment on specifics, the message from Nissan is fairly clear: the next generation LEAF will be more mainstream, more appealing to mass-market buyers — and have a better range.
The question is this: when will it appear, and just what will its specifications be?
Leave your predictions in the Comments below.
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