Why Nissan Has an Edge in 200-Mile Electric Cars

NIssan Leaf SL
Nissan has an edge with the volume-selling Leaf on the road. | Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

Wouldn’t it be great if there were an affordable all-electric car that could go decent distances and fast-charge for less than $30,000 after incentives?

Tesla has captivated the world with this message, and General Motors beat everyone to the punch with the upcoming Chevy Bolt. But Nissan already has such a car on the road — one it’s delivered in volume around the world. With the announcement that a longer-range Nissan EV is in the works, the automaker has a been-there, done-that edge on the competition.

At a June industry event in Canada, Nissan’s global director of EV engineering told AutoblogGreen a 200-mile Leaf was on the way, though he didn’t say when. While we knew it was happening, it was the first time a high-ranking company official put it on the record in such terms. This bit of information tells us the next wave of electric vehicles will be as competitive as enthusiasts hoped; it also says the most successful EV maker is making its big move.

2016 Nissan Leaf
Nissan has fewer unknowns than other manufacturers looking to produce 200-mile EVs in volume. | Source: Nissan

Nissan brings to the game the technological expertise honed over years of manufacturing and improving the Leaf, its pure electric car capable of 107 miles in SV trim ($34,200). Meanwhile, the Japanese automaker has also demonstrated the capacity and ability to produce the Leaf in volume.

Its 30,200 sales in 2014 represent the record for any plug-in vehicle on the U.S. market, and it has already delivered close to 95,000 models to American drivers since its debut. In a word, the automaker has already done the thing Tesla wants to convince everyone it can do with its upcoming electric car for the masses.

2016 Nissan Leaf
Leaf’s ability to fast-charge gets it to 85 miles in 30 minutes. | Source: Nissan

This advantage should not be underestimated. For all the wizardry and magnetism involved with a Tesla product, we’ve seen how the company can fall victim to its own hubris. (This was clearest in the issue-plagued Model X roll-out.) Those skeptical about accelerated production goals for Model 3 have already called into question the “how” and “when” of the equation.

Experts on the manufacturing process point to the tooling constraints, contracts with suppliers, and countless other variables that typically prevent an automaker from ramping up an assembly line on short notice. Complicating the equation further is Tesla’s claim it will deliver cars at 10 times its current pace by 2018. No one has ever done that.

Finally, the Model 3 is a from-the-ground-up new platform, Tesla’s fourth in its brief history and its first intended for mass consumption. It would be fair to wonder whether the automaker can deliver on a lower-end promise without compromising on its plans to profit. Hyperactivity surrounding Tesla stock makes this angle an outsized concern.

For its part, GM can claim a rock-solid production pedigree and has experience shifting assembly-line plans without causing a stir in company outlook or general company perception.

Chevy Bolt EV
Chevy Bolt heads into production late in 2016. | Source: General Motors

On the other hand, GM has no experience with volume electric cars. Chevy Spark EV, its highest-selling product in the space, has sold fewer than 6,000 units in American since its 2013 debut. (Chevy Volt, though impressive and a volume seller, is a hybrid.)

To get its Chevy Bolt EV to market in 2016, the General is relying heavily on supplier LG for electrical components. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne remarked these arrangements have forced automakers to cede control of different production elements in the EV era. GM will confront that reality before the competition as it launches Bolt production later this year.

Nissan has already proven itself in the space in terms of both product (Leaf SV) and affordable price point ($26,700 after federal tax credit). Combined with French company Renault, no manufacturer has done as much in the electric vehicle segment.

The economical 107-mile Leaf has already accomplished many of the things other automakers hope to achieve in the coming years. If we had to bet on a company to deliver the most affordable long-range EVs by 2020, we’d feel safe letting our money ride on Nissan.

Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY