T.E.N. Future Transport News 12th December, 2014: LEAF Battery Replacement, Crash-Tests, as Big as the Prius

Welcome to T.E.N! Short for Transport Evolved News, T.E.N. is recorded every Friday to help your weekend get off to a flying start by making sure you haven’t missed the big future transport news stories of the week.

Weekly show about future cars and future car technology. This week news about: Nissan’s European LEAF battery replacement program; Volvo XC90 T8 performance and price; BMW i8 fuel tank leak; claims the Toyota Mirai will be as big as the Toyota Prius; Audi A3 Sportback e-tron crash test; Kia Soul EV crash test; Nissan LEAF’s fourth birthday celebrations.

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Yours for just £4,920

Six months ago, Nissan North America announced that owners of its LEAF electric car would finally be able to buy a brand-new replacement lithium-ion battery pack for their car for just $5,499, including a $1,000 trade-in for their car’s old battery pack.

Now, Nissan Europe has announced its own version of the LEAF battery replacement program, in which owners of any year of Nissan LEAF or Nissan e-NV200 electric van can buy a replacement battery pack for their vehicle.

Similar to the U.S. Program, owners will have to surrender their car’s original battery pack in exchange for a new one, and will be paying €5,000 in mainland Europe before taxes or £4,100 before taxes  in the UK.

While most people will still find their vehicle’s battery packs are well within the extensive warranty period offered by Nissan, this scheme should at least quell any fears from would-be owners that they’ll be left high, dry and poor with an expensive battery replacement at some unknown point in the future.

Smart, Powerful and Expensive

It seats seven, plugs in, and is being marketed by its parent company as being the cleanest, smartest, safest full-size SUV in the world — and now we finally know a little more about Volvo’s twenty-fifteen SPA-based full-size plug-in.

Powered by a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, supercharged four-cylinder engine at the front end and a 65kW motor at the rear, the range-topping Volvo XC 90 T8 is packed to the brim with advanced safety technologies, including two firsts for the industry: run-off protection and intersection auto-braking.

But with its massive size and relatively small nine point two kilowatt hour battery pack, the Volvo XC90 T8 isn’t really designed as just an electric car. Instead, it can travel around twenty-five miles in all-electric mode, or go on to produce a combined economy of 59 MPGe. While that’s hardly good, it’s worth remembering that’s the equivalent of a Toyota Prius — in a full-size SUV.

So far, so good. But when we come to the price — an eye-watering £59,950 before incentives — it’s going to be a tough sell against the highly-anticipated, all-electric, seven-seat Tesla Model X which, as Tesla promises us, will debut towards the end of next year.

Good luck, Volvo.

No matches please, we’re leaking

You’re the manufacturer of one of the sexiest plug-in hybrids on the market today, have an order book more than a year long, and the mainstream automotive world loves you. So the one thing you don’t’ want is an official recall for the very thing that you’d probably rather folks forget your car has: a gas tank.

Yet this week, that’s exactly where BMW found itself with the news that the BMW i8 has a bit of a problem with certain model year twenty fourteen BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports cars.

As the official recall notes, a fault in the manufacturing process has meant that some cars may have a tiny hole in their fuel tanks which, under certain circumstances, could leak. And as anyone who knows about gasoline and sparks can tell you, those two things don’t go well together.

Affected owners are having their cars fixed as I speak, so let’s hope this is the last time a gasoline fuel leak rears its ugly head in the plug-in world.

The next big thing

Toyota’s twenty fifteen Mirai Fuel Cell Sedan will be as big as the Toyota Prius Hybrid.

That’s the opinion of Rob Carter, Toyota USA’s head of automotive operations, who said this week that the Japanese automakers’ first production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will change the face of the automotive industry forever.

The Mirai, which has just started production in Japan and will go on sale in the U.S. and Europe next summer, does indeed draw some similarities with the original Toyota Prius hybrid. Both cars are unconventional in their styling, both marketed as clean, green vehicles,, and both appear to have cost Toyota a fair bit of cash to develop.

But while we’d love to see Carter proven right, we think there are some big differences between the Mirai and the Prius — differences which will ultimately cause the Mirai to have a very different life to the Prius. For a start, there’s the whole fuelling infrastructure thing — and then there’s the matter of cost. Even at launch, the Mirai is far more expensive to build than the Prius ever was.

As big as the Prius? We remain to be convinced.

Top ratings

Audi’s first mass-produced plug-in car, the 2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid, has been awarded a full five-star safety rating by European crash test organisation Euro NCAP.

Based on the same drivetrain and chassis as Volkswagen’s plug-in hybrid Golf GTE, the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron features a 1.4-litre TFSI gasoline engine mated to a 6-speed S tronic gearbox as well as a powerful 75 kilowatt electric motor and 8.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, and it will go on sale in Europe very shortly.

In its official crash test ratings, the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron fared best in adult occupant crash tests, losing the most points for its pedestrian protection tests. We should note however, that all-in-all, the A3 Sportback e-tron got a pretty impressive test sheet all round.

Four stars

In related news, the twenty-fifteen Kia Soul EV — kia’s first non-domestic electric car — has been awarded a four-star safety rating by Euro NCAP in the same round of testing as the Audi A3 sportback e-tron.

But while the Kia Soul may appear to have fared worse on paper than the German, it turns out that it actually did better in both adult and child occupant tests than the sporty plug-in hybrid.

In fact, it was only a lack of advanced safety features which dragged the Kia Soul EV’s rating down. And when you look at the things which it did score highly on, you’ll find that it even out-rated the twenty fifteen Tesla Model S for passenger and child safety.

It just goes to show that it sometimes pays to check these ratings extra-carefully, because you may be surprised at what you find.

Running on empty?

Available with or without a range-extending engine, the 2014 BMW i3 has proven itself to be one of the most popular new cars of twenty fourteen, with strong sales around the world.

But as certain publications — including Consumer Reports in the U.S. and the Independent in the UK– have discovered to their peril, running the BMW i3 REx until its battery pack is completely empty can result in some reduced performance on steep, fast inclines.

Well, this week a sales handbook leaked online shows that BMW is more than aware of the situation — and it even tells its dealers how to explain the range and performance expectations when the i3 REx’s battery pack is nearly empty.

But not all dealers seem to be making their customers aware of this.

Essentially, the page details the situations where the car will run on reduced power, and from our interpretation it reiterates what we already knew: the i3 REx’s range-extender isn’t for long-distance trips. It really is designed to get you to the next charging station. So if you think otherwise and you’re about to buy one, better read up on that dealer handbook first.

Happy Birthday!

It might not seem like it, but Nissan’s All-electric LEAF hatchback turned four this week, celebrating more than 150,000 sales and as we reported last week, more than one billion travelled kilometres.

And on the occasion of its fourth birthday, Nissan has unveiled some pretty compelling evidence from the UK which says that more than half of owners in the UK say their LEAF outperforms traditional alternatives in every way, while ninety-three percent of LEAF owners say they use their Nissan LEAF as their main family car.

And from the money saved from not buying gasoline, Nissan says owners have treated themselves to everything from a 3D printer and family holidays to installing solar panels on their home and even a vintage synthesizer.

Just goes to show, electric cars can help you go places you never before thought you could go.


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