Here at Transport Evolved, we’ve got to admit that we’re kind of fond of the Nissan LEAF’s unusual design and almost anthropomorphic front, complete with big eyes, squat nose and open mouth. As we say here in the UK, the Nissan LEAF is something of a Marmite car. You either love it, or you hate it.
But while some 140,000 customers around the world obviously like the current, slightly nerdy look to the Nissan LEAF, the next-generation car — due in 2016 as a 2017 model year vehicle — will be designed to cater to more conventional tastes.
That’s according to Nissan design chief and senior vice president Shiro Nakamura, who told GreenCarReports last week at the Paris Motor Show that the second-generation Nissan LEAF will be given a more conventional design, one that appeals to a broader audience.
It’s a well-trodden path familiar to anyone who has followed the progress of alternative and future-fuelled vehicles through the marketplace: start bold and daring, then move towards mainstream conventionality.
Take Honda’s first ever hybrid car — the original 2000-2006 two-seat Insight — for example. With a lightweight aluminium body, sweeping, aerodynamic lines and narrow, half-covered rear wheels, the Insight stood out on the road as a futuristic, trend-setting car. Its predecessor, the 2009-2014 Insight, was an uninspiring, fairly conventional five-seat family hatchback.
Another example comes from Toyota’s famous Prius family. The first Prius (1997-2003) was a small, efficient, slightly geeky four-door sedan. The second-generation (2004-2009) Prius was a gadget-focused, efficiency-focused hatchback that screamed “I’m an environmentalist” and had a futuristic, minimalist interior. The third generation (2010-current) Prius meanwhile, dialled this down in an attempt to appeal to more mainstream car buyers with a more conventional, dowdy interior and less assuming exterior.
“Now we are aiming for a bigger number of customers, and they are not looking for as much ‘EVness,'” Nakamura said of the second-generation LEAF design. “Some people say [of the current LEAF], oh , this is too unique…we are covering a much broader range of people now.”
In many ways, the current generation LEAF is reminiscent of the 2004-2009 Toyota Prius: a functional, yet minimalist interior that emphasises the car’s futuristic technology and environmental prowess. Designed primarily as a city car rather than a long-distance car, the current generation LEAF isn’t exactly big on creature comforts. With a larger, longer-range battery pack planned, the 2017 Nissan LEAF will need to play more to longer-distance use scenarios.
“But now, we’ll be expanding the range; so that means it has to be more of a long-distance car,” Nakamura explained. While he didn’t give specifics, that implies the next-generation car will include more driver adjustment and perhaps more comfortable seating for longer-distance trips.
Hinting that the redesign would mean more gadgets and toys for passengers, plus a wider range of interior appointments, Nakamura painted the next-generation LEAF as a more grown-up car, one which would allow its customers to choose to spec high-end tech features.
“But the base model will stay a base,” he confirmed, “because some people are simply looking for basic transportation — nothing else — and some people want to have an EV simply as a unique, innovative car.”
If you’re one of the many LEAF fans who likes their current-generation LEAF with a large dose of gadgetry on board, that last statement should offer some solace: while Nissan intends to make the LEAF outwardly more conventional in its design, there’s going to be room for those who want to shout from the rooftops that they’ve got an all-electric, zero-emission car capable of things that most cars can’t do.
In other words, the next-generation LEAF will expand on the hard work done by the first generation LEAF, bringing a range of trim levels and options to cater to everyone’s tastes.
As for battery packs? There’s no word on range yet, but Nakamura was happy to say that the 2017 Nissan LEAF will offer a higher-range battery pack above that of the current generation LEAF — and that Nissan was still examining the possibility of offering the 2017 LEAF with a choice of battery pack sizes to cater to different tastes and budgets.
Sadly, there are no official images of the 2017 Nissan LEAF yet, but we’re curious: what would you change about the current Nissan LEAF? What would you like to stay the same? And do you think Nissan is right: do car buyers want something a little more ‘normal’ with a plug on it?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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