Nissan Remains Quiet Amidst Rumours of Longer-Range 2016 Nissan LEAF. Here’s Our Take

On sale since December 2010, Nissan’s all-electric LEAF hatchback is currently the world’s best-selling electric car, with more than 120,000 examples sold to date.

With the exception of a few fairly major changes — the first being a more efficient power electronics, charger, motor and HVAC system when Nissan moved production from a single facility in Japan to two additional factories in the U.S. and UK for the 2013 model year; the second being a gradual improvement in battery chemistry for improved battery longevity in hot desert climates– there’s very little difference between the 2015 model year LEAF and the very first 2011 LEAFs.

Rumors suggest Nissan is about to increase the capacity of its LEAF battery pack

Rumors suggest Nissan is about to increase the capacity of its LEAF battery pack

Yet according to a rumour posted on both Facebook and the My Nissan LEAF forum, the 2016 Nissan LEAF SV and 2016 Nissan LEAF SL– due to hit dealer lots this summer — will include a larger, longer-range battery pack capable of storing not the 24 kilowatt-hours of previous model year LEAFs and the 2016 Nissan LEAF S, but 30 kilowatt-hours.

At the time of writing, Nissan is adamant that there’s nothing to report.

A larger battery pack would also indicate a longer range, which we’d guess would be somewhere around 100 miles on the EPA test cycle.

Naturally, the first thing we did was reach out to Nissan for official comment to confirm or deny this rumour, but as of the time of writing, Nissan is adamant that there’s nothing to report.

“We have made no public announcement about the 2016 Nissan LEAF,” said Brian Brockman, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at Nissan North America. ” We do not comment on future product details.”

Is the Nissan LEAF about to get a range increase? It's plausible, but unconfirmed.

Is the Nissan LEAF about to get a range increase? It’s plausible, but unconfirmed.

In the world of automotive press, that’s the equivalent of a polite ‘No comment.’ Some outlets may infer that polite and succinct response is proof that the rumours are indeed true under the old adage that ‘there’s no smoke without fire.’ Others would play the line more cautiously, saying that rumors only become fact when confirmed by at least two independent sources that are known for their authority on the subject.

We’ve tried to obtain such a confirmation from our various sources, but at the moment we’ve been unable to substantiate the rumours either way. Most of our sources point to the rumours as being ‘a possibility,’ but nobody is willing to discuss the rumoured improvement either on or off the record.

Normally when faced with such an uncommitted response to such a rumor, we’d treat the rumor itself as particularly suspect. In this case, however, we’re willing to at least treat the rumors as plausible, but not confirmed.

Here’s why.

For a start, we know that Nissan is working hard to bring the next-generation Nissan LEAF to market, a car which is both more mainstream in its appearance and appeal as well as offering at least double the range of the current model.

That model is generally expected to debut as a 2017 model year car, not a 2016 model year car, and will likely coincide with the launch of an all-new, 2017 model-year all-electric Infiniti sedan based on next-generation Nissan LEAF technology.

Nissan’s consistency on pegging both cars in various interviews and speeches as 2017 model year vehicles makes an early release unlikely, which brings us to another, more intriguing possibility: Nissan’s battery technology is ready for a leap in energy density, and the Japanese automaker is about to test it in the outgoing LEAF.

Despite Nissan’s noncommittal, there’s some logic to the rumor

From our tour of Nissan’s lithium-ion manufacturing facility in Sunderland, UK last year, Nissan openly talked about the continuing process of improvement being made to its battery packs.

Nissan is constantly refining its technology

Nissan is constantly refining its technology

While 2015 Nissan LEAF battery packs are no larger in capacity than the original 2011 Nissan LEAF battery packs for example, they are made of improved chemistry cells which are both longer-lasting and more capable of withstanding the extreme heats of climates like Phoenix, Arizona than the original 2011 Nissan LEAF battery cells were.

It’s entirely concievable that Nissan’s latest battery cell technology is both more energy dense and longer-life than even the packs used in the 2015 Nissan LEAF. Rather than wait until the next-generation 2017 Nissan LEAF, using these improved battery cells in the 2016 Nissan LEAF could give Nissan a real competitive advantage on the competition, including the 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf and 2016 Kia Soul EV.

Moreover, it could help Nissan refine its battery pack technology further on the way to perhaps producing an even more energy-dense, longer-range battery pack in the 2017 LEAF, helping it compete more directly in the marketplace with GM’s 200-mile 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, which is due to enter production in October next year as a 2017 model-year car.

Finally, we’d like to cite the Nissan e-NV200 as the final reason the rumors of the 2016 LEAF battery pack capacity increase could be true.

In production in Europe for nearly a year, the all-electric e-NV200 hasn’t entered the U.S. market yet due to concerns about its range. Based on the same motor and battery pack found in the current-generation Nissan LEAF, the e-NV200’s larger frontal area and higher coefficient of drag means that its range is far lower that of a Nissan LEAF and nearer to 65 miles of real-world driving than the 75 or so miles of the LEAF.

Speaking candidly in the past, Nissan executives have promised the e-NV200 will enter the U.S. market as and when it has an improved, longer-range, more energy dense battery pack to offer in the versatile minivan. We think that day may soon be upon us.

If true, the rumor could mark the start of sales of the e-NV200 in the U.S.

If true, the rumor could mark the start of sales of the e-NV200 in the U.S.

As we said earlier in this article, we feel unable to confirm or dismiss this rumor at the current time — but if that changes, we’ll make sure you’re the first to know.

In the meantime, we’re curious to know what you think about a potential battery capacity increase for next-year’s LEAF. Would you welcome it? Would you pay any more for it? And would those extra few kilowatt-hours be enough to make a substantial difference to your ownership experience?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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