Nis­san’s new Leaf puts PRES­SURE on elec­tric car ri­vals

Jamaica Gleaner - - AUTO MOTIVES -

THE BAT­TLE for con­trol of the small but in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive elec­tric ve­hi­cle mar­ket got a lit­tle hot­ter last Tues­day night, as Ja­panese car com­pany Nis­san un­veiled a new Leaf with a stronger bat­tery and longer range — at a price well be­low ri­val elec­tric cars.

At a glitzy cer­e­mony in Tokyo, broad­cast live on the in­ter­net, Nis­san ex­ec­u­tives said the car has a range of 150 miles and will be sold for about US$31,000.

That makes the new Leaf, set to go on sale in Ja­pan next month and glob­ally not long there­after, a se­ri­ous com­peti­tor to cur­rent EV lead­ers, namely the re­cently in­tro­duced Chevro­let Bolt EV and the just-ar­riv­ing Tesla Model 3.

And Nis­san ex­ec­u­tives said the com­pany will pro­duce a big­ger and more pow­er­ful bat­tery, which will power a longer driv­ing range, next year.

Based on the num­bers, Kel­ley Blue Book se­nior an­a­lyst Karl Brauer said: “The Leaf is again a vi­able EV con­sid­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially at that price. You can get more range with a Model 3 or a Bolt EV, but you have to pay more money.”

The Leaf, which Nis­san in­tro­duced in 2010 and later pro­claimed the world’s best­selling bat­tery elec­tric ve­hi­cle, has lost lus­tre as the new cars from Tesla and Chevy have come to mar­ket.

Long the third best­selling BEV, after Tesla’s Model S sedan and Model X SUV, the Leaf re­cently ceded that po­si­tion to the Bolt EV.

The new car fea­tures sub­stan­tial up­grades from the 2017 Leaf, a four-door sedan that of­fered a max­i­mum range of 107 miles, was pow­ered by a 30-kilo­watt-hour lithium-ion bat­tery and re­tailed for just over US$31,000.

The new car has a 40 kWh bat­tery, and at 150 miles pro­duces about 40 per cent more range.

Those fig­ures, how­ever, fall short of the com­pe­ti­tion: Both the Bolt EV and the up­com­ing Model 3 boast big­ger bat­ter­ies, and con­se­quently, longer ranges. The 2018 Nis­san LEAF.

The Bolt EV has a 60 kWh bat­tery, while the Model 3 is pow­ered by ei­ther the stan­dard 50 kWh bat­tery or the more

ex­pen­sive 75 kWh op­tion. The Bolt EV boasts a range of 238 miles be­tween charges, the Model 3 220 miles with the smaller bat­tery and 310 with the larger.

That said, the Bolt EV and Model 3 are more ex­pen­sive. Be­fore taxes and li­cences, and be­fore re­bates and in­cen­tives, the Bolt EV aver­age sales price is just un­der US$38,000, ac­cord­ing to Con­sumer Re­ports, while the Model 3 will typ­i­cally sell for about US$42,200 for the smaller bat­tery ver­sion and US$57,700 for the big­ger one.

At the pro­posed man­u­fac­turer’s sug­gested re­tail price, Brauer added, Nis­san is bring­ing the Leaf to mar­ket be­low the aver­age price of a new car sold in Amer­ica — which for 2017 has been es­ti­mated at US$34,500.

And Nis­san has an­other ad­van­tage that Tesla, Chevy and other elec­tric ve­hi­cle play­ers like VW and Audi lack. Hav­ing al­ready sold plug-in elec­tric ve­hi­cles to more than 100,000 US con­sumers, Brauer said, the com­pany of­fers a ve­hi­cle with twice the range as its first mod­els, but for about the same price.

“They have suc­cess­fully man­aged to trans­fer the car into the new EV norm, which is a min­i­mum of 150 to 200 miles in range,” Brauer said. “They are on the lower end of that, but they are on the lower end in price, too.”

The 2018 Leaf will of­fer a tech­no­log­i­cal edge over some of its ri­vals, in that it can park it­self and drive al­most au­tonomously un­der most ur­ban con­di­tions.

It also fea­tures a rev­o­lu­tion­ary ‘one-pedal’ drive sys­tem: Push the pedal down and the car ac­cel­er­ates; re­lease the pedal and the car be­gins to ap­ply re­gen­er­a­tive brakes that re­turn en­ergy to the bat­tery.

Elec­tric ve­hi­cle sales have been grow­ing, but still rep­re­sent a frac­tion of to­tal car trans­ac­tions. In 2016, plug-in elec­tric bat­tery cars ac­counted for only 0.5 per cent of all US car sales, ac­cord­ing to the au­to­mo­tive anal­y­sis firm Edmunds. That’s up from only 0.1 per cent in 2012; it could rise to 0.6 per cent in 2017.

The num­bers look a lit­tle bet­ter when plug-in hy­brids like the Chevy Volt are in­cluded. But even then, all plug-in bat­tery elec­tric cars and plug-in hy­brids, which are pow­ered by a com­bi­na­tion of elec­tric mo­tor and gaso­lene-pow­ered en­gine, still ac­count for only 3.3 per cent of 2017 ve­hi­cle sales.

An­a­lysts said cus­tomers for the new car may be new to the EV mar­ket, or may mi­grate from other brands.

Those con­sid­er­ing the pur­chase of a Leaf tra­di­tion­ally also have mulled over a Chevy Volt, Toy­ota Prius or other plug-in BEV or hy­brid.

New cus­tomers could be cur­rent Leaf own­ers ea­ger for more range, at the same af­ford­able price. But they could also be prospec­tive buyers whose names are low on the Model 3 wait­ing list.

“Right now the peo­ple who are look­ing at the Model 3 are very Tesla-spe­cific,” said Edmunds an­a­lyst Jes­sica Cald­well.

But peo­ple who don’t ex­pect quick de­liv­ery of their Model 3s could eas­ily re­quest a re­fund of their deposit and use that money to buy a Leaf, Cald­well said.

The launch of Nis­san’s lat­est car could rep­re­sent a tossed gaunt­let to Tesla.

The Cal­i­for­nia-based Elon Musk firm, hav­ing dom­i­nated the lux­ury EV mar­ket with its Mod­els S and X — both with aver­age prices of US$100,000 — is poised to be­gin mass pro­duc­tion of the mass-mar­ket Model 3.

That car car­ries a base price of US$35,000, be­fore tax re­bates and in­cen­tives, and in its pre-pro­duc­tion life has proved stag­ger­ingly popular. The com­pany has said that 455,000 cus­tomers have paid US$1,000 for spots on the Model 3 wait­ing list — roughly four times more than all the Nis­san Leafs sold in its seven years of ex­is­tence.

Few of those or­ders have been filled. Tesla be­gan pro­duc­ing the Model 3 at its Fre­mont plant in July, and so far has de­liv­ered only 30 to pay­ing cus­tomers — all of them Tesla em­ploy­ees.

But the com­pany has de­clared it will be mak­ing the en­try-level EVs at the rate of 20,000 a month by the end of this year, on its way to an an­nual pro­duc­tion sched­ule of 500,000 Mod­els S, X and 3 by the end of 2018.

The 2018 Nis­san LEAF.

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