Is This The Longer-Range Nissan LEAF EV, Hiding in Plain Sight at Nissan’s Shareholder Meeting? All Signs Point to Yes

Nissan is hard at work developing a longer-range battery pack for its LEAF electric car that would offer an extended “peace of mind” range that offers “comparative mobility to today’s conventional vehicles,” and we could see the first steps towards increased all-electric range in Nissan electric cars later this year.

Carlos Ghosn, talking at Nissan's Ordinary Shareholder Meeting yesterday.

Carlos Ghosn, talking at Nissan’s Ordinary Shareholder Meeting yesterday.

That’s according to Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who made comments alluding to longer-range Nissan electric cars in the near future at Nissan’s 116th Annual General Shareholder Meeting yesterday in Yokohama, Japan.

Following on Nissan’s 2014 fiscal year financial report, given By Nissan CCO Hiroto Saikawa, Ghosn took to the stage at the National Conventional Hall of Yokohama to give the assembled 1,700 Nissan Shareholders in attendance an overview of Nissan’s achievements during the previous year and some forward-thinking statements designed to give shareholders an idea of what Nissan has planned for the financial year 2015 and beyond.

In addition to discussing some of the new models that are due to debut during financial year 2015 (which runs from April 1, 2015 through March 31 2016), Ghosn spent some time focusing on some of the forthcoming technological advances in store for Nissan’s cutting-edge vehicles.

The vehicle that stands to my right is another advanced technology breakthrough. It explores how far we can extend electric vehicle range by making changes to the batteryCarlos Ghosn, Nissan CEO.

Standing on a stage, Ghosn was flanked by two Nissan LEAFs, the only Nissan vehicles present in the hall at the time of the meeting. To his left stood a white Nissan LEAF wearing Autonomous Drive decals and fitted with the latest in Nissan’s autonomous driving technology. To his right, a blue Nissan LEAF simply wearing a decal which read “Advanced R&D Electric Vehicle”

The former looks to be simply an evolution of Nissan’s autonomous driving technology, but take a closer look at the latter, and you’ll note it looks slightly different to other LEAF’s we’ve seen thus far.

Ghosn was flanked by two very special Nissan LEAFs

Ghosn was flanked by two very special Nissan LEAFs

In addition to different LED daytime running lights and an all-round carbon-fibre effect skirt, we notice that there’s something protruding from beneath the car well beyond the floor pan of a standard production LEAF. Too far underneath the vehicle to be a traditional side skirt, it also appears to have a carbon-fibre effect covering. Look closer however, and it appears to extend well underneath the vehicle.

Add in what Carlos Ghosn said of the car, and we think you’ll agree what was on display had to be an engineering vehicle fitted with a much larger battery pack.

“The vehicle that stands to my left features the latest versions of hardware and software that Nissan is developing,” Ghosn said. “The vehicle that stands to my right is another advanced technology breakthrough. It explores how far we can extend electric vehicle range by making changes to the battery.”

“Today there are only two reliable ways to increase electric vehicle range,” he continued. “The first is to have a massive network of EV chargers, so that when you are away from home you have the ability to recharge easily. The other option is to put a larger battery pack into the vehicle so that the driver enjoys greater range.”

Noting that with current technology, adding a bigger battery pack meant increasing cost, Ghosn reiterated Nissan’s commitments to improving rapid charging networks so that existing LEAF and e-NV200 customers could drive longer-distance trips with as much ease as possible. Citing the massive number of charging stations available to customers in Japan, Ghosn said there was “no need to wait” for Japanese customers who wished to make the switch to an electric vehicle, but also noted that other markets had less developed rapid charging infrastructure.

The first is to have a massive network of EV chargers, so that when you are away from home you have the ability to recharge easily. The other option is to put a larger battery pack into the vehicle so that the driver enjoys greater range.

“We believe that, in the near future, Nissan can provide EV drivers with even greater ‘peace of mind’ range, by offering comparative mobility to today’s conventional vehicles,” Ghosn continued. “Nissan is exploring new materials and chemistry solutions in order to make thinner, lighter weight and less costly batteries. We foresee the day when you leave your home with a full charge, and are able to go about your day with no concerns…then return home with ample charge.”

To the assembled audience, Nissan then played a video that demonstrated a routine day for such a vehicle in the near future.

“With this vision in mind, our advanced battery research will continue. But we will not wait for its completion to move forward. Later this year, you will hear more about our initial steps to increase EV range,” he concluded.

While he was careful to avoid promising a longer-range LEAF directly, what was said — along with that mysterious bulge under the so-called “Advanced R&D Electric Vehicle” — lead us to suspect that the rumors we heard back in May of a longer-range 2016 Nissan LEAF SV and 2016 Nissan LEAF SL are far more plausible than we once thought they were.

Back then, the rumor talked of a larger 30-kilowatt-hour LEAF battery pack in these two upper-end LEAF models as a stop-gap measure on the way to Nissan’s supposed 200-mile second-generation LEAF, which is due to debut some time before 2017.

We don't know about you -- but there's something weird about this LEAF.

We don’t know about you — but there’s something weird about this LEAF’s undercarriage. Could it be a larger, longer-range battery pack?

Based on capacity increase alone brought about by higher battery pack energy density, we’d expect a Nissan LEAF fitted with a 30 kilowatt-hour battery pack would yield a real-world range of between 120 and 130 miles per charge. A similar pack fitted in Nissan’s e-NV200 minivan would likely bring its range up from the 65 miles of real-world range it currently has to nearer 100.

As we said back in May, the rumors have yet to be confirmed by anyone at Nissan, but given the large hints that CEO Carlos Ghosn was giving, we think a modest battery pack upgrade for the 2016 Nissan LEAF is looking more and more plausible by the day. Until that happens, we have to keep this firmly on the ‘rumor’ pile… but we live in hope.

Watch this space.

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