VIDEO: Nissan’s Mysterious “Advanced R&D Electric Vehicle” is a 330+ Mile Prototype LEAF

Yesterday, we broke the news that Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn had been dropping some big hints at Nissan’s Ordinary Shareholder Meeting — held on Tuesday in Yokohama, Japan — that suggested the Japanese automaker could be releasing a longer-range LEAF electric car sooner than we previously thought.

We've finally seen the video of Nissans Ordinary Shareholder Meeting -- and its very exciting.

We’ve finally seen the video of Nissans Ordinary Shareholder Meeting — and its very exciting.

Ghosn was also joined on stage by two LEAF electric cars, one of which was fitted with autonomous driving technology and the other which we clearly thought had the tell-tale signs of a larger capacity battery pack peeking out from underneath its body. Digging through the transcript, of Mr. Ghosn’s speech, we were also able to glean some important details about Nissan’s future plans for electric car range, including the fact that Nissan will begin to demonstrate the first steps towards longer-range cars later this year, and has been working for some time on lighter, more energy-dense batteries for its vehicles.

As part of that presentation, Ghosn said that “Nissan is exploring new materials and chemistry solutions in order to make thinner, lighter weight and less costly batteries,” adding that “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.”

Nissan then showed a video to the audience which Ghosn said was “how we envision a routine day” some time in the future.  Yesterday, we hadn’t seen that video, but now we have — and it brings with it some news that we’re sure will get LEAF fans around the world excited.

It showed the same car that accompanied Ghosn on stage driving around Japan with an extended-range battery pack. And when the car was first turned on, its dashboard read a total range of 544 kilometers (338 miles).

That’s more than three times the range of the current Nissan LEAF, and validates Ghosn’s statement yesterday that Nissan would “in the near future… provide EV drivers with even greater ‘peace of mind’ range, by offering comparative mobility to today’s conventional vehicles.” It also goes some way to explaining why the car we saw on stage — which some readers said simply had a Nismo body kit fitted — had what appeared to be a plus-sized battery pack dangling from its tummy.

We knew there was a big battery hiding in there somewhere...

We knew there was a big battery hiding in there somewhere…

The short 1-minute 20-second video, which you can see above, doesn’t go into any great detail about what Nissan’s prototype LEAF, but does hint at what Nissan has done to make it possible with a series of slides which say “Increasing battery capacity,” “Reducing weight,” and “Improving aerodynamics” on its quest to have “Technology that takes you farther.”

Of course, at this point it would be all-too easy to proclaim that Nissan has a long-range LEAF waiting in the wings, ready to launch. If that were the case, it would certainly catapult Nissan to the front of the race to be the longest-range electric car, besting the claimed range of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV and snapping at the heels of the Tesla Model S 85 and 70D.

But while we’re sure many LEAF owners would be delighted to welcome a threefold improvement on range for their next electric car, we suspect the prototype vehicle demonstrated in this video isn’t a car that’s ready for market just yet.

For a start, if that protrusion underneath the vehicle is indeed a larger-capacity battery pack, it would mean a significant loss of ground clearance over current LEAF models. While it’s perfectly fine and normal for a prototype test mule to have limited ground clearance in order to fit in a higher-capacity battery pack, we’d guess Nissan will need to wait until a next-generation LEAF before offering quite as large a pack commercially — or dramatically increase energy density to allow the extra kilowatt-hours to fit in the same physical space as the original LEAF pack.

Like Nissan’s autonomous driving LEAFs then, we view this long-distance LEAF prototype as being at least a year or more from production.

As we said yesterday however, we think that Tuesday’s speech by Ghosn adds significant credence to rumors that suggest Nissan will give the current LEAF a mild range boost for the 2016 model year, serving as a stop-gap measure for the automaker before the 2017, second-generation LEAF debuts late next year.

There’s one final thing we’d like to note, too. In past discussions of a longer-range, next-generation LEAF, both Nissan as a whole and Carlos Ghosn have discussed bringing a production model to market with a range that is roughly twice that of current LEAFs. This video demonstrates that Nissan has now moved well beyond that, and has the technology to produce a car that can not only rival the luxury Tesla Model S on miles per charge, but can also aggressively cross-shop against hydrogen fuel cell and internal combustion engine vehicles with equal range for everyday practicality, too.

The one thing we don’t know? Price. Just how much would a 300+ mile Nissan LEAF be? And that’s something we’re curious to know your thoughts on in the Comments below.

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