Nissan is sitting on technologies poised to take mainstream-priced electric cars and driverless capabilities to a new level.
This about sums a 60-kilowatt-hour battery powering a sensor-laden autonomous “IDS Concept” prototype to be shown at the Tokyo motor show on Wednesday (which by Japan time is now).
The EV reportedly uses LG Chem cells which may also rely on patents by Argonne National Lab and could yield up to 320 miles (500km) range on Japan’s very liberal JC08 cycle, or around 200 miles range or so in the U.S.
The model year for the next-gen production Leaf is not official, and for those hoping it will be a 2017, that it might be a 2018 could be bittersweet news – or at least mean a longer wait while Tesla works on its Model 3, and the Chevy Bolt launches as a 2017.
According to Bertel Schmitt of the Daily Kanban who attended the first known media invitation to Nissan’s Advanced Technology Center in Atsugi, he heard 2018 – not 2017 – repeated more often than any other year as a possibility. His hunch is 2018 is the year for whatever internal reasons Nissan has.
The ostensible occasion for the invite last Friday was to showcase autonomous tech, but Schmitt’s read on the situation, after speaking with Nissan personnel, is the IDS Concept also foreshadows powertrtain tech to be used on the next-gen Leaf.
Schmitt previously reported another set of Leaf prototypes with Nissan’s new battery and as much as 250 miles range, so it’s not a stretch that the driverless prototype also is a test bed for what Nissan has in store.
But coming back to the question of model year, whether gen-two Leaf will be a 2017 or a 2018 is unknown. Up till now rumor has been reported as near fact to the point that EV fans and even professional analysts are calling for 2017 with the certainty of the rising sun.
Nissan however, not wanting to cannibalize its own sales any more than it has to, has not said more than the 2016 will get a 30-kwh optional upgrade. Unofficial reports, including a dealer disclosure which was quickly removed blowing the secret of Nissan’s 2016 Leaf with larger 30-kwh battery suggested 2017 is the year for generation two.
Whether that is the case or not, it’s believed Nissan will double the 30-kwh pack in the same form factor with the new battery utilizing Nickel-Mangan-Cobalt chemistry on the cathode side, and a graphite anode. It consists of multiple cell modules in a high density stack, and a prototype shown Friday had 288 cells.
Schmitt suggested it is reminiscent of the Argonne design GM also licensed, but Nissan is being secretive even while it takes chances with engineers speaking to probing journalists.
The LG Chem disclosure is also not an official Nissan announcement. It was divulged during a private talk with engineers, but when overheard by a Nissan media handler, that conversation was shut down.
“The supplier of the new battery was treated as a state secret last Friday,” reported Schmitt. “While I was working the Renault-Nissan Alliance dinner on Tuesday night, a leading Alliance engineer told me that the battery will be built ‘by us and LG Chem.’ Then, two alarmed handlers stopped the discussion.”
Talk of a misunderstanding about who really was supplying the new battery and other vague statements by Nissan’s gatekeeper then ensued to try and do damage control.
While Nissan is heavily invested in its own battery factories, despite lack of any official word, it’s believed the LG tech will be produced by it in these facilities.
Satisfying Mainstream Buyers
What Nissan was open about discussing is that despite first adopters who sometimes vigorously defend today’s 84-mile EPA-rated Leaf range as sufficient, Nissan said it loses one in four buyers due to its inadequacy.
Specifically, concerns over charge time, range, and lack of infrastructure needed to live the EV lifestyle with a gen-one Leaf has produced a 25-percent attrition rate, said the automaker, and it’s determined to fix that problem with gen two.
What “320 miles” on the JC08 really means is an open guess by the time such a car gets to the U.S., but it is surely in the 200 mile ballpark, possibly more. As a reference, JC08 has said the present “84” mile Leaf gets as much as 141 miles to give you a sense of how far this is stretched from U.S. test standards.
In other reports, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has clearly said 200-plus is in the offing, and that Nissan will be there to compete with the Chevy Bolt.
The Bolt goes into production late 2016 however, so again, the timing is unclear at this writing.
More certain is the new chemistry helps with objections with “drastically reduced” resistance to enable much quicker recharging. Not reported is whether a liquid-cooled thermal management system will be used, or what size on-board charger (OBC) Nissan will employ.
The present Leaf gets up to a 6.6-kw OBC which is fine for a 24-30 kwh pack, but the 60-kwh pack will probably need more, as well as DC quick charging capability, which is expected per present practice.
Whatever it gets, assuming the 60-kwh pack is slated for the next Leaf, this means battery capacity for the Leaf will nearly equal a base Tesla Model S which was a 60 kwh, and now is a 70-kwh in the 70D.
Design for the new Leaf’s body has been reported as due to depart from the funky look-at-me design first adopters said they wanted in focus groups.
It is supposed to look more like a normal car with cues carried forth aligning it with its core Leaf identity as well as other Nissan siblings in the company’s product line.
Piloted Drive 1.0
Of course this presentation at Nissan’s Advanced Technology Center in a mountain town southwest of Tokyo was really meant to focus on driverless technology that Nissan has subtly said will far surpass Tesla’s Autopilot.
Called Piloted Drive 1.0 and featured in the IDS Concept, this technology’s rollout schedule is conservative, but it appears already close to, or ready for prime time. A demanding test for such a system is navigating dense city traffic, and this Nissan intends to do with journalists in Tokyo.
As it is, Piloted Driving will reportedly go on sale in Japan in an as-yet un-named car by the end of 2016 – Nissan has also said by 2018, possibly meaning to other markets – and let the car drive itself even in thick highway – not urban – traffic. By 2020 it should allow hands-free city driving. It is not exclusive to EVs and can be adapted to other types of vehicles.
The prototype, a la BMW i3, by the way, is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic to save weight. The next-gen Leaf is also expected to have strategically placed CFRP from the tub upwards, and including aspects of the body including the roof and a slim A-pillar for a nearly unobstructed view.
Weight savings is critical for the electric driverless prototype too, as in addition to the heavy battery, it is festooned with more than 20 dozen sensors of various kinds. These let the car see in 360 degrees and navigate thick traffic with precious cargo on board – you and your family, potentially.
For the driver is a head-up display and center cluster which shows the driver what is around the spatially aware car.
Included in the system are five radar sensors, 12 cameras, four of a new type of laser scanner, and ultrasonic sensors.
Nissan’s new laser scanner it developed is part of this capability as it measures with precision the distance between the car and other objects.
The 360-degree vision is via an eight-way camera system that supplies critical data to the computer as the car navigates curves, intersections, etc.
Nissan has demonstrated its budding autonomous tech in several iterations before now using the Leaf as the prototype, and has previously stated the goals it says it is now well on its way to fulfilling.