With the 2016 Nissan LEAF now rolling off the production lines and onto dealer lots, anyone buying a brand-new Nissan LEAF in North America can now choose between opting for the real-world 84-miles of range per charge offered by the entry-level 2016 Nissan LEAF S, or the 107-miles of EPA-approved range made possible by the larger 30-kilowatt-hour battery pack offered on the 2016 Nissan LEAF SL and 2016 Nissan LEAF SV.
Those in Europe can make a similar choice, choosing a 2016 Nissan LEAF Acenta or 2016 Nissan LEAF Tekna with optional 30 kWh pack for a little more money than the 24 kWh pack still offered as standard on all European LEAFs.
The extra range offered by the additional battery capacity makes the Nissan LEAF the longest-range electric car you can buy today for under $35,000. It also gives Nissan a little breathing room to develop its long-awaited next-generation Nissan LEAF when it retires the original first-generation model, most likely some time in 2017.
Before then however, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is due to hit the market. Set for late 2016 launch, it will steal Nissan’s low-cost electric car crown, offering 200+ miles of range per charge for a target price of around $35,000. And that means when Nissan finally does bring its next-generation LEAF to market, it will need to aim for significantly more than just 200 miles of range.
That, claims Automotive News (subscription required), is exactly what Nissan is planning, with engineers at its Atsugi technical centre in Japan working on a new platform which could give the second-generation Nissan LEAF a range of “close to” 300 miles per charge.
Like other news outlets, AutomotiveNews toured the Atsugi technical centre last month before the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, where it says engineers were showing off a 60 kWh lithium-ion battery pack which has the same dimensions as the 30 kWh battery pack now being installed on higher-spec 2016 Nissan LEAFs. While the battery was in research and development last year — perhaps making an appearance at Nissan’s Annual Shareholder Meeting — it is now being tested in running prototypes.
On paper, that would suggest a range somewhere around 200 miles per charge, assuming the physical weight of the battery pack remained similar to the 30 kWh battery pack in the 2016 Nissan LEAF. If Automotive News is correct, Nissan’s engineers are shooting for a full 100 miles more, so where are those extra miles of range going to come from?
The extra range, says Automotive News’ Lindsay Chappell, lies in the use of carbon fiber construction materials similar to those used to build the BMW i3 and BMW i8, as well as targeting inefficiencies present in the current-generation Nissan LEAF.
Some of those inefficiencies can be targeted by improved aerodynamics. Others can be overcome by reducing friction in the LEAF’s simple single-speed reduction gearbox, its wheel bearings, and even its tires.
Other improvements over the current Nissan LEAF and evidenced by the work being carried out at Nissan’s technical centres, include wireless inductive charging, eliminating another perceived hurdle to electric car adoption. As for design? That, says Automotive News is hinted at by Nissan’s recent fully-autonomous electric IDS concept car, which debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show last month.
That car, we note, featured inductive charging, as well as a 60 kWh battery pack.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, speaking at a press Q&A at the Tokyo Motor Show, was open about Nissan’s focus on electric vehicles moving forward, hinting that Nissan will likely produce an all-electric crossover aimed at mainstream buyers in the near future. Setting out a timeline which included more electric vehicles as well as the gradual introduction of autonomous vehicle technology, Ghosn emphasised that both technologies were more important to the Renault-Nissan alliance than hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
Confirming Nissan is introducing rudimentary autonomous drive features in Japanese-market Nissan LEAFs next year, Ghosn said that Nissan would have a fully-autonomous electric car ready for market launch by 2020. Yet officially, Nissan has been careful to keep its plans for the next-generation LEAF under wraps. It hasn’t even laid down a concrete launch date, although those in the industry and those close to Nissan agree that it will likely launch some time between 2017 and 2020.
While that’s a pretty large timeframe, we suspect a second-generation LEAF is more likely to hit the market in 2017 or 2018 rather than 2019 or 2020. That’s because the general manufacturing lifespan of car before it is replaced with a new model is between five and eight years — and the Nissan LEAF is already five.
But if Nissan wants to bring full autonomous capabilities to the next-generation LEAF, it may well delay its second-generation car a little longer, using incremental improvements in battery technology to keep its first-generation LEAF current for a little while longer.
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