Nissan Leaf to Get Range Boost

Nissan Leaf to Get Range Boost
Nissan Leaf to Get Range Boost

Nissan, fighting falling sales of its Leaf electric vehicle, plans a mid-cycle update as early as August to deliver a big increase in the Leaf's driving range, a person familiar with the project said.

The improvements will come from squeezing more energy into the Leaf's lithium ion battery. The new battery will be the same size as the current 24-kilowatt-hour power pack but deliver 30 kwh, Autonews Europe reports.

CEO Carlos Ghosn outlined future EV steps at the company's annual shareholders meeting on June 23. Nissan is developing a lighter, thinner, cheaper battery to enable driving ranges comparable with gasoline vehicles in the "near future," he said.

Nissan needs a battery breakthrough to help jump-start sluggish sales and ease range anxiety—the fear that a drained battery will leave EV drivers stranded.

Nissan launched the Leaf in 2010 and has made zero-emission technology and autonomous driving two pillars of its future product plans.

But Leaf sales in the US tumbled 25% to 7,742 vehicles through the first five months of the year. Demand is undermined partly by the expiration of various EV tax credits and by a wave of Leafs about to come off lease at diminished value.

Ghosn sought to reassure shareholders that the company aims to stay at the forefront of EV technology.

Next to him on stage, Nissan displayed a Leaf equipped with a prototype next-generation electric drivetrain. That technology, which is under development and being tested, achieves a range of more than 500 km, the source said.

Ghosn said the goal of the next-generation battery is to eliminate range anxiety by providing enough cushion for people to complete their daily drive and "return home with ample charge."

A video simulation showed the car charging up to a range of more than 500 km and ending the day with a drivable range of 200 km still in reserve.

Yet even before that next-generation battery hits the market, Nissan plans an interim upgrade for its flagship green car. "We will not wait for its completion to move forward," Ghosn said.

The Leaf's new 30 kwh battery may arrive as early as August. The battery should achieve an EPA-rated range of about 175 km on a full charge, the source said. That compares with an EPA-rated range of 150 km for the current battery.

The real-world range of the new battery, however, is expected to be closer to 170 to 180 km, the source said.

Nissan Chief Competitive Officer Hiroto Saikawa conceded that Leaf sales have been slower than originally forecast. But he said EV demand should surge in the next five years.

When the Leaf entered the market in 2010, there were just two EVs available worldwide: the Leaf and the much smaller Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

Now, Saikawa noted, there are 12 electric nameplates offered by 11 automakers. And the number of EV models on sale worldwide is expected to double by 2020, he added. Nissan has 41% of the global EV market and aims to keep it, Saikawa said.

"We are definitely making progress," Saikawa said. "We will see a full swing of mass-produced, mass-marketed EVs worldwide. And at that time, our intention is to keep the leadership in EVs