Will Nissan Deliver the Next Great Electric Vehicle?

2015 Leaf
Source: Nissan

You can say Tesla started the fire with the rumors circulating about its long-range, affordable Model 3 EV, but General Motors did its part to fan flames when it debuted the Chevrolet Bolt EV back in January. While both automakers scramble with their various development tasks, a familiar player has emerged that may end up delivering the next great electric vehicle on the scene: Nissan. The automaker with the best-selling EV in history could end up cornering the market once again with an economical solution to practical electric cars.

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan and Renault, told shareholders at the company’s annual conference that his team is now testing an electric vehicle that can compete with the range of gasoline cars, Daily Kanban reports. With a combination of lighter weights and more powerful batteries produced on a cost-effective scale, the future Nissan EV would deliver a range two to three times that of the current-generation Leaf (84 miles).

As proof, Daily Kanban reports Ghosn played a video in which a test car went on a trip starting with 417 km (259 miles) of range before returning with 200 km (124 miles) on the dash. Taking into account the high estimates of the Japanese testing cycle, you could arguably draw down that figure to 200 miles in total range, but such a car would immediately put Nissan back in the picture.

In addition to the legions of loyal Nissan Leaf owners, the automaker would have an advantage over Tesla in production scale and over GM in battery management and general EV development. Should either automaker stumble on the way to producing their future cars, Nissan could step into the void.

2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept all electric vehicle – front exterior
Source: General Motors

Both GM and Tesla have given rough outlines for when production of their respective EVs would begin. Chevy expects to start work on the Bolt EV at the end of 2016 with an early 2017 date expected for delivery. As for Tesla, the Model 3 should appear as a prototype in spring 2016 with production expected for 2017. Considering how many delays one could see as concepts make it to production, there is little reason to expect either one to arrive as scheduled.

To his credit, Ghosn did not set a date when Nissan would come up with its own solution to long-range-yet-affordable EV, though he did describe it as “the near future.” (Daily Kanban guessed that cryptic hedge signified 2018 or 2019.) Nonetheless, Nissan’s chief executive did add credence to rumors the next Nissan Leaf (2016) would have a larger battery pack, good enough to crack 100 miles.

Considering the price point of the current Leaf (now well below $25,000 after incentives) and the murky time frames of the next generation of EVs, Nissan could very well be the one delivering the next great electric vehicle. The media may have relegated the automaker to background noise in recent months, but the groundwork is already set for the world’s top seller in the segment. It will come down to execution.