Nissan Promises Battery Breakthrough, Autonomous Drive for EVs Soon, Teases Concept EV For Tokyo

Tesla Motors might have the market covered when it comes to luxury long-range electric cars that can (at least partially) drive themselves, but Nissan, maker of the world’s most popular electric car, will soon offer electric vehicles that can eliminate range anxiety, offer full autonomy and help push electric cars towards a total of 10 perecent of all new car sales within the next five years.

Nissan may have just launched the 2016 Nissan LEAF with a longer-range battery pack -- but it's a stop-gap measure until the new next-gen LEAF is ready for market.

Longer-range battery pack’s a stop-gap measure until the new next-gen LEAF is ready.

That’s according to Nissan executives Hiroto Saikawa and Akiko Hoshino, who promised at an event at Nissan’s Yokohama headquarters on Tuesday that Nissan’s electrification program was about to undergo a period of intense growth in the  next five years, leading to a sizeable market shift in electric car sales some time between 2019 and 2021.

It’s a statement which softly echoes the claims made by Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn back in 2009, when he predicted that electric cars would achieve a ten percent share of the new car market by 2020. Ghosn, a long-time believer in electric car technology and an astute businessman, has been criticised again and again since then for making just those claims, especially when total Renault-Nissan sales didn’t meet early targets set by the alliance.

Nissan's next-generation battery technology will likely offer 200+ miles per charge.

Nissan’s next-generation battery technology will likely offer 200+ miles per charge.

In  world where electric cars had yet to even hit dealer forecourts in any sizeable numbers, Ghosn’s predictions can be seen as overly optimistic and perhaps a little naive. But with the Nissan LEAF due to enter its sixth year of sales in a few months and roughly 200,000 LEAFs now sold worldwide, the Japanese automaker has a whole lot more experience and knowledge on which to base its predictions.

Hinting at perhaps an expanded electric vehicle lineup in the near future, the two executives disclosed that Nissan is working on a brand-new “breakthrough battery” that it expects to be able to bring to market some time in the next few years. That battery — which we’ve already seen demonstrated in the form of an experimental 330+ mile long-range Nissan LEAF — will likely catapult standard battery ranges of Nissan’s electric vehicle fleet from the 107-miles of real-world driving offered today to more than 200 miles per charge.

That new battery pack will likely make its market debut in Nissan’s next-generation LEAF hatchback, a car which the company is expected to bring to market some time in 2016 or 2017 as a 2017 or 2018 model-year vehicle. Thought to offer the next-generation battery technology to the improved energy-density packs in the 2016 Nissan LEAF — which Nissan has offered as something of a stop-gap measure until the new LEAF is ready to reach market — the new battery chemistry may or may not be made in-house by Nissan.

Nissan has previously previewed a prototype LEAF with 300+ miles of range per charge.

Nissan has previously previewed a prototype LEAF with 300+ miles of range per charge.

Interestingly however, neither Saikawa or Hoshino are predicting the rise of the electric car solely on Nissan’s faith in electric car technology. Instead, Saikawa detailed, ever-tougher emissions and fuel economy targets due to go into effect by 2020 will make it harder than ever-before for automakers to continue to produce internal combustion engine vehicles which actually meet the required emissions targets.

Throwing in a thinly-veiled attack at Tesla Motors, whose autopilot-enabled over-the-air software update last week turned on semi-autonomous drive capabilities in some 60,000 Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X cars made after September last year, Saikawa also promised Nissan would be the first automaker to offer fully-autonomous technology “before anyone else” in the marketplace.

Some may say Tesla’s autopilot features, which successfully proved themselves in a coast-to-coast trip earlier this week, means Tesla can already lay claim to that particular title. But it’s worth noting that Nissan has been working on its own, very impressive autonomous driving software for some time, both at its Japanese engineering headquarters as well as a special advanced vehicle technology laboratory in Silicon Valley.

Unlike Tesla however, which has developed a lot of its software in-house, Nissan’s autonomous partner happens to be NASA, an agency whose interest in autonomous vehicles extends to Mars and beyond.

Nissan has been working publicly on autonomous drive vehicles for some time now.

Nissan has been working publicly on autonomous drive vehicles for some time now.

To showcase how advanced its autonomous drive and electric vehicle technology truly is, Nissan has already teased a photograph of an all-electric, fully-autonomous vehicle which it will unveil next week at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. Looking similar in design to various Nissan concept cars we’ve seen in recent years — including the Nissan Pulsar concept we saw last year — the concept car is said to include at least 200 miles of range and full autonomous capabilities.

That concept car, which clearly follows a sporty hatchback design language, is also expected to preview some of the design elements and technical capabilities of the next-generation LEAF. That in turn makes us wonder if the next-generation LEAF will include not only a vastly-improved battery pack but also autonomous drive technology too.

Given that Nissan is rumored to be planning a massive demonstration of its autonomous drive technology at next week’s Tokyo Motor Show — including sending 100 journalists across Tokyo in fully-autonomous electric cars during rush hour — we’d be willing to bet that the next generation LEAF will come with some form of autonomous capabilities.  If it does, it could certainly be the first mass-market, affordable electric car to offer such technology.

As you can guess, we’ll be paying close attention to next week’s Tokyo Motor Show to see just what Nissan has in store for us — and we’re sure you will be too.


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