Nis­san adds range to cheaper Leaf, but new driv­ers are key

Ripon Bulletin - - On The Road -

CHIBA, Ja­pan (AP) — Nis­san’s new Leaf elec­tric car will go farther on a charge and has a new type of drive tech­nol­ogy and the pos­si­bil­ity of sin­gle-pedal driv­ing. It will also be cheaper, though the world’s top-sell­ing elec­tric car still won’t match the driv­ing range of its prime com­peti­tors.

The zero-emis­sions ve­hi­cle — which Ja­panese au­tomaker Nis­san Mo­tor Co. un­veiled in the U.S. late Tues­day and in a Tokyo sub­urb Wed­nes­day — prom­ises a travel range of about 400 kilo­me­ters in Ja­panese driv­ing con­di­tions or 150 miles in the U.S., be­fore need­ing an­other charge. The com­pany is char­ac­ter­iz­ing it as an ap­prox­i­mate 40 per­cent im­prove­ment from up to 280 kilo­me­ters or 107 miles for Leaf mod­els on sale now. The dis­tances vary by coun­try be­cause driv­ing con­di­tions and mea­sur­ing stan­dards are dif­fer­ent. The range also de­pends on what other fea­tures are be­ing used such as the car’s heater.

Both Tesla’s Model 3 and the Chevro­let Bolt can travel over 200 miles (322 kilo­me­ters) be­tween charg­ing sta­tions. The 200-mile mark is con­sid­ered by many in­dus­try ex­perts as the range needed to ease driver fears that they’ll run out of juice short of their des­ti­na­tion.

Brian Maragno, di­rec­tor of elec­tric ve­hi­cle mar­ket­ing for Nis­san in the U.S., said the 2018 Leaf will start at $29,990 be­fore a $7,500 fed­eral tax credit, an im­por­tant price point to cur­rent Leaf own­ers, many of whom will be re­peat buy­ers. The Bolt, by com­par­i­son, starts at $36,620 while the Model 3 starts at $35,000.

In Ja­pan, it starts at 3.15 mil­lion yen ($29,000) with the most ex­pen­sive ver­sion cost­ing 3.99 mil­lion yen ($37,000). The model goes on sale in Ja­pan on Oct. 2, and in Jan­uary in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

A Leaf with over 200 miles of range likely is com­ing for the 2019 model year, but it will cost more, Maragno said.

The restyled 2018 Leaf is lower and more sculpted than its bul­bous pre­de­ces­sor, and Maragno said it also comes with new fea­tures that should at­tract new buy­ers. The base model S comes stan­dard with au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, and more ex­pen­sive model lines have an op­tional semi-au­ton­o­mous driv­ing fea­ture that keeps the car cen­tered in its lane and stops it from hit­ting ob­jects in front of it. Also stan­dard is a 38 per­cent in­crease in power to 147 horse­power. The car can be op­er­ated in one-pedal mode that au­to­mat­i­cally slows or stops the car when the driver eases up on the ac­cel­er­a­tor, but it still in­cludes a brake pedal, es­pe­cially for emer­gen­cies.

Re­search has shown that Leaf buy­ers wanted a car be­low the $30,000 start­ing price, but they also wanted more fea­tures, Maragno said. Even with the added fea­tures, Nis­san low­ered the price by $690 from the 2017 model, mak­ing it at­trac­tive to cur­rent own­ers, he said. “For me, it’s im­por­tant for us to fo­cus on the loy­alty piece. You don’t want to alien­ate those peo­ple,” he said.

Nis­san is wait­ing to in­tro­duce the 200mile model be­cause it takes longer to de­velop, Maragno said. And while that range is im­por­tant in the U.S., he noted it is not as sig­nif­i­cant in other mar­kets.

In the gala rolling out event in Ja­pan, Nis­san Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent Daniele Schillaci stressed that the Leaf was su­pe­rior to Tesla of­fer­ings be­cause Nis­san had decades of ex­pe­ri­ence mak­ing cars, and had more ex­per­tise on safety and other con­ve­nience fea­tures for cars.

“The new Leaf is not just an EV,” said Schillaci, who heads the zero-emis­sions ve­hi­cle pro­gram at Nis­san.

The Leaf is the world’s best-sell­ing elec­tric ve­hi­cle, sell­ing a cu­mu­la­tive nearly 300,000 so far.

Some an­a­lysts are more skep­ti­cal about elec­tric cars’ ap­peal to the broader mar­ket, not­ing the big­gest ob­sta­cle is their lim­ited driv­ing range per charge. Sev­eral break­throughs in bat­tery tech­nol­ogy are likely needed be­fore they be­come af­ford­able and prac­ti­cal for reg­u­lar con­sumers.

Koichi Sugi­moto, an­a­lyst at Mit­subishi UFJ Mor­gan Stan­ley Se­cu­ri­ties Co. in Tokyo, says many au­tomak­ers are sell­ing green mod­els be­cause of tightening emis­sions reg­u­la­tions, es­pe­cially in Europe and Cal­i­for­nia, rather than be­cause of what he called “nat­u­ral sales growth.”

“There re­ally is no out­stand­ing at­trac­tive qual­ity about an elec­tric ve­hi­cle,” he said, not­ing draw­backs such as find­ing charg­ing sta­tions.

Nis­san said Ja­pan has 28,000 charg­ing sta­tions and more are be­ing added.

The re­mod­eled Leaf also gets a 6.6-kilo­watt on­board charg­ing sys­tem that draws more elec­tric­ity from a 240volt charg­ing out­let, al­low­ing the Leaf to go from empty to fully charged in about 7.5 hours, Maragno said.

Photo con­trib­uted

The 2018 Leaf con­cept car

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