With over 160,000 global sales and close to 75,000 in the U.S., Nissan’s Leaf is by far the top-selling electric car but what Nissan will do for an encore is a bit of a mystery.
Actually, Nissan has made a few statements we can summarize into some of what to expect, although no actual photos or drawings are available of the second-generation car.
Before we get to that, there’s been some questioning whether the car launched Dec. 2010 might see its thus-far ascending sales level out, or begin to decline. Anything is possible, but analyst Alan Baum thinks even against pending loosely competitive cars like the second-generation Chevrolet Volt and fourth-generation Toyota Prius Liftback, Nissan will do what it takes to keep pushing more units out the door.
It’s expected the new Leaf will be a 2017 model year and it could be revealed by the Washington DC Auto Show January 2016, or the 2016 New York International Auto Show in April, Baum ventured. And it could be on sale by around October 2016.
UPDATE: 12/15 – Indicators from Japan suggest it is possible the next generation Leaf could be a 2018 model. Officially, Nissan has not said.
The Renault-Nissan Alliance has been determined and bullish on EVs from the start. For those anticipating the second generation Leaf, what it comes up with more than a year after its sort-of rival Volt launches will need to be competitive for a similarly long life cycle, and Nissan will not want to disappoint.
Multiple reports quoting Nissan’s executives have them saying a new, more heat-resistant battery chemistry with improved energy density is waiting in the wings. Last May, Andy Palmer, executive vice president, said at least 186 miles range would be needed to keep up with competitors.
Beyond the then-unforeseen Chevy Bolt EV – or whatever they may call it – or others like Tesla’s Model 3, long-range fuel cell vehicles may also begin vying for attention, and will add to reasons for EV makers to increase the range. Palmer simply said more consumers want more range, so to expand the empire, this they will have to do.
More confirmation came last December when CEO Carlos Ghosn told a Japanese reporter over 250 miles on the Japanese test cycle could be expected, and in January from Detroit he said they’re shooting for over 200 miles, presumably on the tougher U.S. cycle.
It’s been suggested also Nissan may offer different battery packs for both a longer-range and standard-range version. The present 84-mile range Leaf has trained a generation of first buyers with many of them saying they are fine with under 100 miles.
Some of these well-adopted early adopters don’t want to pay for or lug around a bigger pack, and so a less pricey variant with less than maximum possible range may fill the bill for those who want it.
The company is also working toward potential wireless charging.
More Mainstream Looking
While it’s expected a five-passenger hatch layout will be retained, last May Mamoru Aoki, the Nissan brand’s global design chief told Automotive News the design will be more mainstream in appearance.
Nissan has said the present look was at the request of prospective customers who were asked what they wanted in an EV. They said they wanted the Leaf to stand out – and the unique visage does distinguish it on the road like a Prius’ looks have as well.
In October, Green Car Reports noted from the Paris Auto Show, Shiro Nakamura, design chief and senior vice president – who’d also said the same in May to Automotive News – said again the look would change to broaden its appeal.
“Now we are aiming for a bigger number of customers, and they are not looking for as much ‘EVness,’” Nakamura said. “Some people say [of the current car], oh, this is too unique … we are covering a much broader range of people now.”
Nissan still wants it to look like an electric car, but it will get design language to fit the family DNA. In August Auto Express went so far as to create an artist’s rendition of the 2017 Leaf, but this is of course just an educated guess.
Inside the new Leaf, to accommodate potentially longer journeys thanks to the longer range, Nakamura said Nissan will make the car more comfortable.
“But now, we’ll be expanding the range; so that means it has to be more of a long-distance car,” said Nakamura.
A premium trim level will thus be offered.
“But the base model will stay a base,” Nakamura explained. “Because some people are just looking for basic transportation—nothing extra—and some people want to have an EV simply as a unique, innovative car.”
In his view, the new Leaf they’d already begin working on will be “very nice looking.”
Of course infotainment and telematics will be up to date too, but Nissan has not said autonomous drive would be ready quite yet. Its target date for its first production semi-autonomous technology has been stated to be 2020.
The company has demonstrated full autonomous capabilities with test cars, but hurdles need to be overcome before it brings its first production cars to market with the capability several others are working towards as well.
Nissan has told us the aim would be a level of hands-free driving that could work on the highway, most likely, but not in-town by 2020. This would be a cut above its advanced cruise control now found on some Infinitis that nearly let a car drive itself already.
Given Nissan is still more than 18 months away from being able to actually sell its next Leaf, it would prefer people to focus on the present car. This month Nissan’s Brian Brockman told AutoblogGreen in Chicago Nissan had little to say on the Leaf beyond Nissan is proud of its leadership role to date.
“Of course things are in the works,” said Brockman of the next Leaf. And that was about it leaving Autoblog’s Sebastian Blanco with the impression we should not expect to hear much more anytime soon.
It is not in Nissan’s best interest to tease a future product that will convince people to wait it out. Chevrolet is already feeling the pain in Volt sales as its 2016 Volt is pending this summer.
However for determined buyers inclined and able to wait till perhaps fall 2016, indicators are already there – the next Leaf will benefit from lessons learned, probably offer more than double the range, and look more ordinary while still distinguishable as an EV.
Besides this, what do you think Nissan should do?