By modern standards, the Nissan (NSANY.PK) Leaf isn’t a polarizing car. It’s a little fun and a little quirky, but overall, it fits in rather nicely with the current automotive landscape. You want an outlier? Look at the Juke. Regardless, Nissan said on Wednesday that the next rendition of the popular electric car will be more mainstream and have a better battery pack. Moreover, the Infiniti vehicle that will be based on the Leaf’s powertrain will be arriving in 2017, Automotive News reports.
Andy Palmer, the executive vice president in charge of Nissan’s zero emissions and Infiniti businesses, told the publication that new battery chemistry will debut by then for use by Infiniti and Nissan, and that better range is key to higher sales.
“The battery chemistry is all about range and energy density. That’s where you see the technology moving very, very fast,” he said in an interview with Automotive News last month at the Beijing auto show. “This really is the game-changing technology.”
No target range was offered, but the Leaf currently offers 84 miles per full charge. That’s sufficient for most Americans’ daily commutes, but for longer hauls and the hallmark Great American Road Trip, it’s a bit of a hindrance. At minimum, the battery must be capable of delivering 186 miles or so to remain competitive with the hydrogen fuel cell cars that fellow Japanese firms are working on.
More battery improvements will be made to the current generation, and soon, Palmer told Automotive News. That will include tweaks for longer life in warmer climates, according to the publication. The new Leaf will likely arrive sometime in 2017, though nothing definitive has been announced; the Infiniti EV will arrive sooner, as a part of Nissan’s Power 88 plan.
“I think the EV will come earlier,” Palmer said in his interview with Automotive News, pointing to tightening government emissions rules, especially in China. “To some extent, EV is now becoming practically a requirement.” He added that the Infiniti will come with a new battery pack and wireless conductive charging, which is also under consideration at Volkswagen AG.
Visually, the Infiniti will be a sedan, capable of greater range thanks to more room for the battery pack. The Leaf will remain a hatchback but will be developed to look more mainstream, a factor that Mamoru Aoki, the Nissan brand’s global design chief, says is more possible now since EVs don’t need to be set apart as visually as they have been in the past.
“The current Leaf is aiming too much at an EV-like appearance,” Aoki told Automotive News. “Tesla doesn’t look EV at all. The Tesla S just looks nice, very sporty, sleek, but very authentic.” The Leaf will be designed to fit into Nissan’s new design language with the V-inspired grille and the floating roof, seen on the new Rogue and the recent Murano concept.
“We want distinctive, yet more mainstream,” Shiro Nakamura, chief creative officer for the Nissan and Infiniti brands, said to Automotive News.
As Nissan ponders the next-generation Leaf, Tesla is carving out its reputation as a force to be reckoned with, especially in the EV field. We recently outlined several reasons why Tesla has been securing such a position in the EV market, even before you take its car into account. Here are some of those reasons.
1. Customers come first
There are many aspects of Tesla that one can argue and complain about, but it’s hard to give the company a hard time about its customer service. Take for example, if you will, the fires that plagued the media for weeks and sent the company’s stock into a nosedive late last year. In a time when safety concerns and potential recall risks are being buried for years before something is done, Tesla grabbed the issue by the horns and took charge of making things right.
It immediately reached out to the affected owners and launched its own investigation into the occurrences, the most concerning of which involved the cars hitting some substantial road debris that caused the battery packs to ignite. Before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could get a word in, the company had issued some fixes (like adjusted ride height) to minimize the risk of it happening again. Now, six months or so on, every new Model S that a customer buys comes with some extra titanium shielding to make the car even safer.
The situation was repeated — sort of, in the sense that a fire and Tesla were in the same space at the same time — when a garage where a Tesla was housed went up in flames in November. Naturally, everyone pointed to the car or its charging unit, and the local fire department ruled the cause inconclusive. Despite denying that it had anything to do with the car, Tesla sent out another over-the-air update and even sent out replacement chargers with a new thermal fuse. Just in case.
2. The company is not afraid of a challenge
How do you deal with the near-complete and inherent lack of a fueling station network when you’re trying to sell electric cars? If you’re Tesla, you build them. And you don’t ask your owners to pay for the charge, making free cross-country travel a thing. It’ll take a bit longer, but it’s definitely a thing.
There are few greater challenges in the business world than building nationwide physical infrastructure to enable your customers free travel. Can you imagine another automaker single-handedly building out a national gas station network? We can’t. More impressively, Tesla is also building such infrastructure in Europe and Asia, just so electric car potential owners don’t have that excuse. Love Tesla or hate the company, you kind of have to appreciate that sort of tenacity.
If that wasn’t ambitious enough, Tesla has been meeting challenges constantly, from facing off with local legislatures over its sales model to designing and building its own $5 billion battery factory to bring lithium-ion cell production in house. Remember, this company has just one car on the market.
3. Driving innovation
Few companies have managed to shift industry thinking in recent years more than Tesla Motors. Virtually every aspect of the company is innovative to some degree, from its sales channel to its product to how the company maintains its products once they’re out in the real world. No other company has achieved performance from a road-going electric car like Tesla has, and on top of that, it’s among the safest on the road. The Model S isn’t just a great electric car — it’s a great car that happens to be electric.
The car aside, Tesla itself has raised the standard of innovation in just about every way. Its factory uses robotic carriages autonomously following magnetic strips in the floor to move the chassis around for production. The way people buy a Tesla — online, or via Tesla’s retail locations — is a unique model in today’s auto industry (but more on that in a second). Tesla’s guaranteed resale value means that the lease for the car is more like a rent-to-own situation. There’s no money down, and when the lease is up, the company will buy the car back for a guaranteed amount. Tesla has even innovated the way we lease our cars.
Finally, the Supercharging network. A major gripe against electric cars is there’s no supporting infrastructure to encourage long-distance travel — a hallmark American pastime. Tesla remedied this by not just developing a fast-charging network but by deploying it, as well — in three different continents. It’s also aiming to become one of the world’s largest producers of lithium-ion battery cells, showing that it can innovate in its supply chain, too. (Read the full story here.)