Nissan Hopes a Bit More Range Will Boost LEAF Sales

By · August 27, 2012

Nissan LEAF

Nissan is expected to boost the real-world range of the Nissan LEAF in the 2013 model.

Earlier this month, SankeiBiz, a Japanese business website, reported that the 2013 Nissan LEAF, will increase its maximum driving range from 200 kilometer to 250 kilometers. The accuracy of SankeiBiz’s reporting should be questioned from the beginning, because 200 km converts to 124 miles—a range that is well beyond the capability of the LEAF’s 24 kilowatt-hour pack. Most drivers, including me, more commonly get about 80 miles of range in everyday driving. Nonetheless, the repeated rumors and leaks that Nissan will try to boost the LEAF’s range indicate that drivers see 80 miles as lacking.

The key line in the SankeiBiz article loosely translates to, “Many drivers say this level is not enough.”

For the past six months, there have been hints that the 2013 LEAF will address what has become shortcomings in its technology: a relatively slower 3.3-kW charger; a relatively mild temperature-control system for its batteries; and a relatively inefficient cabin heater. I repeat the word “relative,” because when the LEAF was first introduced, it had no real competition among pure EVs. But Nissan’s aggressive move to be on the leading edge, two years later, looks like a bleeding edge. All the major players have faster chargers and active battery temperature control systems—relatively better technology—so Nissan needs to act fast to maintain a reputation as EV leader.

Left In the Cold

I was speaking with folks at the Department of Energy last week, who have been testing the LEAF for cold weather conditions. They “soak” the EV in 20-degree climate, and then set the heater to bring the cabin to 72 degrees. Their tests indicate the heater pulls somewhere between 4 to 6 kW, which if left on for the duration of a city driving cycle cuts range in half, according to the tests. Based on these numbers—and the fact that this coming winter will be the first year that we see decent numbers of LEAFs on the road in the coldest parts of the country—there's a risk that LEAF owners in Northern climates will be unhappy.

I asked Nissan about the heating system in the 2013 model. I got the standard “we don’t talk about future products” line that many automakers rely on when the questions are uncomfortable, but cast aside when they want to trumpet a new feature.

None of this diminishes my enjoyment of my LEAF in the idyllic weather of the San Francisco Bay area. (I'm about half-way through my three-year lease.) My devotion to the LEAF as a great ride has only been underscored over the past few days, as I’ve been driving a loaner Ford C-Max hybrid. Ford has produced a really good hybrid. But frankly, I’ve been spoiled by the LEAF’s quietness and quick acceleration. All hybrids—without a plug—now seem clunky. Maybe the C-Max Energi, the plug-in hybrid version of the car, will be more in line with my new expectations.

Does 20 More Miles Equal 2,000 Sales

On the other hand, my recent multiple day drive of the new RAV4 EV—stay tuned for my review in next Sunday’s New York Times—makes me see the shortcomings of an EV that offers 80 miles. The RAV4 EV—admittedly at a much higher price tag of $40,000 after incentives—consistently delivered between 120 and 130 miles of range (even with aggressive driving). That’s a big jump from the LEAF’s 80 miles. Tesla’s J.B. Straubel recently told me that he sees 125 miles as a “functional minimum.” He said the LEAF indeed works for most driving, but that its 80 miles of range dramatically increases how often a driver needs to think about charging for an “intermediate” trip or destination. “That’s really tough,” he said, “for the super mass-market consumer who doesn’t want to deal with any of this stuff.” I agree.

If the latest rumors that the LEAF can increase its range by 25 percent prove true, then the small EV’s range would bump up to 100 miles. That would be fantastic for future LEAF owners, but could leave us early adopters a bit disappointed. And I’m not sure if it will help first-time EV shoppers, because Nissan’s rhetoric all along has been that the car delivers 100 miles of range. (What will the ads say? “This time, we mean it.”)

When we first posted about the upgrade to the LEAF’s winter range, Mark Perry, Nissan’s director of product planning, said that the heater will be “much, much more efficient,” in an interview with The Detroit News. Then again, in the same interview, he also said that he expects LEAF volume to hit 2,000 units per month in the US by late summer. That's right now. In a few days, we’ll see if August numbers increase from July’s 395 sales and June’s 535 units. Unfortunately, all the chatter about more range coming out for 2013 will only make it harder for Nissan to sell the remaining 2012 models.

Comments

· Bret (not verified) · 4 years ago

I hope the improved range, heater and charger will help the Leaf sell better. The other two keys, which weren't addressed in this article, are the promised lower price and improved styling of the 2013 model, that will be made in Tennessee. I have always thought the Leaf was ugly and it's not that hard to make a good-looking hatch with a low C/D. I also think the price is too close to the Volt, which is more stylish and flexible. I am rooting for Nissan, but they have to evolve quickly to stay in the game.

· · 4 years ago

I owned my Leaf for six weeks before I traded it in. I was getting a range of just over 50 miles in a brand New Leaf with minimal use of the heater. The windows constantly fog up so you need to use the heater a little bit in order to see where you are going but it stayed cold enough for all occupants to need to wear a think winter code, gloves and hat. I like to be green but that was a little bit to hard core for me.

I now drive a Volt and am very happy with it's summer and winter performance.

· · 4 years ago

The announced/speculated upgrades for the 2013 Leaf can be categorized as follows . . .

1) Important: 6.6kWh charger and possible increased range.

2) Important, but probably only if you live in a cold climate: more efficient cabin heater.

3) Stupid: leather seats.

4) Would be nice: less bumpy panel lines (for both aesthetics and drag characteristics)
and redesigned rear deck (larger rear hatch for more efficient cargo handling.)

5) REALLY Important, especially so in warmer climates, but probably anywhere :
revised battery temperature control, possibly involving liquid cooling.

· James (not verified) · 4 years ago

Don't worry Brad, they will probably be replacing every pack in the country from the first generation cars after all is said and done. It looks like people from temperate climates are also losing a bar of capacity, and so it's not just us poor saps in Phoenix. That hints at a more systemic problem, and I hope they have fixed it with better chemistry with the batteries that will be rolling out of Tenn.

· · 4 years ago

Brad,

Do we know what specific improvements they are making to gain the ~20 miles of range?

Neil

· Bluegreen (not verified) · 4 years ago

Brad - Aside from engine noise, it seems you are impressed with the c-max hybrid. Will your c-max review be posted soon on this website?

· Al Blunt (not verified) · 4 years ago

Hey Dutchinchicago how do you like your new Chevy Volt. I ask because I'm in Ct. And I'm leaning the same way.
Ok so a small increase to what was supposed to be true from the get go?! And now those of us that already have one are left with one that maybe can get around 70 miles if you're on flat ground and doing no more than around 45 mph. Without any climate control allocating about 7-10 % of the battery?
And too make matters worse as I've experienced charging stations showing on the map in your vicinity that when you call may be restricted not for public use ( including Nissan dealers)
You're kidding right?!!! I believe this car has peaked in sales and interest is dying because people don't want to inconvience themselves charging every 50 miles or so even though the vast majority of them don't realize that the current leafs range isn't even 100.
No offense to anyone but I have a strong feeling this car is headed to the " whatever happened too" graveyard. And oh yeah let me inform people that if you get a flat tire that your only repair option in the car is that can of fix-a-flat which will ruin your tire pressure sensors which I believe isn't covered. Ask me how I know and I'll tell you because it happened to me. And the Chevy Volts solution is the same so you may consider purchasing a doughnut spare and keep it in the trunk. Good luck too all including myself because the leaf is like-able.

· · 4 years ago

I'll defer to a very informative article regarding the Leaf battery woes that is remarkably devoid of the uniformed FUD . . .

http://livingleaf.info/2012/08/nissan-leaf-battery-capacity-loss-third-i...

Pointed out there . . .

"Let’s just say that as many as 200 vehicles are impacted globally. That number is still less than one percent of all LEAFs sold globally to date. Which means that more than 99 percent are not impacted. Certainly this number will continue to grow, and we are not attempting to sidestep that part of the equation. But as it stands now, statistically speaking, this is still a very small percentage or even fraction of a percentage of the entire universe. And this is the point that all Nissan LEAF owners or prospective LEAF owners must keep in mind."

And, regarding one of the so-called cases occurring outside of the hotter climates, in San Diego . . .

" . . . this particular LEAF accumulated over 25,000 miles in 14 months and the battery was drained to “turtle” mode about 20 times in that 14 month period. Given that this is only one example, one must consider the possibility that frequent use of the entire usable battery capacity may also be a contributing factor to this issue. Then again, accumulating 25,000 miles in 14 months and using the entire usable battery capacity perhaps 20 times during that time frame is likely outside the norm regarding typical vehicle usage.

Further, it was noted (words in full capitals in the below quote retyped by me for added emphasis) . . .

". . . upon reviewing the original post by the owner, this San Diego car did NOT lose a bar as reported. The owner THOUGHT it was about to lose a bar when he sold it."

Well, so much for that one.

There's also reports about a joker in the Seattle area who lost a bar or two, but he managed to put something like 33,000 miles on his Leaf in the period of a year. Heat may be what's at the heart of most of these Leaf battery depletion scenarios but compressing 3 years worth of driving into a single year - not to mention the hyper-aggressive charge/discharge sequence that had to occur with all of that - is also probably going to show a battery pack degrading prematurely.

My guess is that Nissan will introduce a more comprehensive battery cooling system on the 2013 Tennessee-built Leafs and this story will recede in much the same way that the Volt battery fire scare of this past spring did. After spending something on the order on 4 billion dollars to develop and bring this thing to the market, I sincerely doubt that Nissan is about to bail on the Leaf. If they have to spend a million or two to swap out a few hundred defective battery packs, they won't be happy, but they'll eventually do it and move on.

· · 4 years ago

Great article I sign under every word. Especially I like the following part:
"because Nissan’s rhetoric all along has been that the car delivers 100 miles of range. (What will the ads say? “This time, we mean it.”)"
:)

100 miles range would be wonderful!
I think it will boost 2013 LEAF sales to around 2,000 per month!

· · 4 years ago

I am not real keen on letting Nissan (or any vendor) off the hook on their ethical if not legal responsibilities towards early, bleeding edge adopters. But I am really uncomfortable with some of the ‘facts’ and observations presented in the comments to this article:
@dutchinchicago – My guess is the heater, not the actual car mileage (after all, Chicago!) Or if you were using that ridiculous range anxiety generator (‘estimated remaining range’) instead of the state-of-charge bar graph. What was the temperature outside when you were getting a range of just over 50 miles? I’ve taken my LEAF one-way, 6500 feet up Mt. Lemmon here in Tucson for over a year now. For months now it has been over 100 degrees most days. I’ve had the A/C set at 74 and I’ve passed everything on the road that wasn’t observing the high end of the speed limit. The round trip is 60 miles – and I still have three bars on the charge gauge when I get home.

@Al Blunt – Where do you live, the North Pole? I wonder if you got a lemon LEAF? I really have trouble believing that “…around 70 miles if you're on flat ground and doing no more than around 45 mph. Without any climate control…”

@ Bret & Benjamin Nead – I think we will have to agree to disagree about that style stuff. One of the reasons I didn’t get a Volt is that my recumbent bicycle wouldn’t fit in it. As it turns out, I don’t WANT it in my LEAF anyhow. But oh, well… Anyhow if Nissan listens to you and comes out with something in which my recumbent bike will no longer fit, all I can say is it will be hard not to hold a grudge. And Benjamin, you are just plain wrong about those leather seats. It’s not like Nissan is going to go out and kill cows just for their hides. (I’ll bet it takes less energy and produces less greenhouse gas to ‘recycle’ the leather!)

A lot of the above is just theoretical because I intend to keep my LEAF way past when Nissan says its battery is finished, perhaps all the way down until it has no more range than a new Volt in all EV mode – unless some new vendor makes me an offer I can’t refuse. Like Brad, I lease my LEAF (Thanks Plug-in Cars and contributors for the tip!) and will have no reservations returning it if buying out the lease doesn’t make sense. For me ‘make sense’ means making all the way to the top of Mt. Lemmon and back. It sounds like one of those 2013 LEAF batteries would help a purchase decision at the end of my lease ‘make sense’.

· Bret (not verified) · 4 years ago

@Steven

I'm more than happy to disagree wth you about the styling. You are one of the few people I have met who admit to liking it. The front of the Leaf is OK and the sides look great, but the back is hideous. Nissan has figured this out and I'm sure they will come up with something nicer looking for 2013. I also prefer a hatch to a sedan, so I can carry my surfboards and mountain bikes.

The white seats weren't so popular or practical, so why not offer leather. Some people prefer leather to recycled plastic. It's not a crime to want leather. Personally, I would prefer grey fabric to white, since I have dogs. People want options on cars, including EVs.

One thing I wanted to mention is that the LEAF has a lower MPGe rating than the Focus electric. I hope they can improve this, along with their range. One option would be to use taller, thinner LRR tires, like the ones coming out on the BMW i3.

· · 4 years ago

@Bret - you may be putting words into my mouth with that "liking" stuff. I don't dislike it. I just don't want styling to get in the way of functionality - on anything.

I forgot something as well - a challenge to any Volt owner to get even most of the way up something like Mt. Lemmon in all-EV mode.

· · 4 years ago

@Neil - Nissan is not saying much about the exact improvements to get those extra miles. But if I understand, it mostly applies to winter driving and comes by virtue of a more efficient heater.

@Bluegreen - I wasn't planning on writing a review of the C-Max Hybrid, because this site focuses on plug-ins. I'm getting around 40 mpg, with spirited driving. If I babied it, I could probably get the 47 mpg EPA mark. The size is right between regular Prius and the Prius V. Comfortable enough. Seems completely competent, but not much more I can say. Do you have specific questions?

· · 4 years ago

Well, I guess the leather seat lobby has spoken, so I won't belabor the issue. Since becoming a vegetarian, I just now think such thing as a kind of purposeless luxury. With the new diet, leather belts and wallets have made way for canvas ones and even dress shoes are now all fabric based. I found the recycled fabric material used in the Leaf to be perfectly acceptable and comfortable while I was borrowing one of these cars. All Nissan would have to do is fashion this material to different textures and colors to give more options.

As for the Leaf's rear deck, I found carting around by son's cello case a bit of a chore. I didn't take measurements but the trunk on my neighbor's Toyota Camry (he often carts the case around when carpooling our kids) is perfectly designed for it. For as large as the rear end of the Leaf is, the hatch door that goes with it just feels proportionally very tiny.

· · 4 years ago

@Brad: " But if I understand, it mostly applies to winter driving and comes by virtue of a more efficient heater. "

This is a little disappointing to read. Does this mean that maybe the "extra" miles are really miles not lost in the winter?

· · 4 years ago

@Brian - Good question. The Japanese report suggests that it's an overall gain of 25 percent. But Nissan isn't really saying much, and has only talked about the heater. So, it's a guessing game. To me, common sense dictates that the only effective way to boost range by 25 percent is to offer a bigger battery pack. That means more cost, in a time when Nissan is already offering discounts via aggressive leases. That's a tough economic equation.

· Pedro (not verified) · 4 years ago

@Brad Berman bigger battery pack is the easy and wrong approach. That would make the car more expensive, heavier (less efficient) and more time to charge.

In my opinion, the right approach to make electric cars cheaper and more efficient (more range) is to reduce weight (better battery energy density and more use of aluminum and carbon fiber) and improving aerodynamics.

With less weight and aerodynamic drag it is possible with a 20KWh battery pack have more range and less charging time than in the current Leaf.

Not having a light solar panel in the roof of an electric car it is another thing that should change.

A 200Wh solar panel in the roof would add 1-2km of extra range per hour. How many of us left the car in the sun for 10 hours in a day while working?

Dragging a heavy battery all the time is very inefficient. 150/200km of range is OK if we can charge the batteries completely in 12 minutes and even Chinese Headway 40160S-16AH allow this. A123 batteries allow that in only 6 minutes...

· · 4 years ago

I only wish it was all so easy, Pedro. You're correct in observing that making the car lighter and utilizing advanced materials is a step in the right direction, but that's not going to make it less expensive. The opposite, in fact, would probably be true.

Carbon fiber, in particular, is a marvelous material. But it's something that has to cure in a mold for hours and this adds to the cost of using it in large scale manufacturing. Metal panels, on the other hand, can be pressed into a finished shape in a matter of seconds. Using lighter weight aluminum instead of steel in places will also help with weight. But that has to be balanced against long range durability of the overall vehicle, as well as increasingly stringent crash safety requirements.

Better aerodynamics would be a more cost effective approach, but automotive design is a far more fickle and fashion-driven beast than the design of, say, airplanes. We're going to see things like big drag-inducing radiator grills and pointless air scoops (many of which don't actually scoop any air) on EVs for a while now, not because they're needed any longer, but because both consumers and auto designers are comfortable with the look of them. Of all your ideas, however, this would be the easiest to implement (just ask frequent Plug In Cars poster Neil Blanchard.)

I like the idea of PV panels built into auto roofs in theory. But they probably don't provide the quantity of electricity needed to do much more than run climate controls to moderate the car's interior temperature while parked for a couple of hours. Auto manufacturers also charge a premium for them (thousands of dollars for a few hundred dollars of silicon,) since the panel has to be molded to the specific shape of the car's roof. They do look neat, though.

Efficient solar PV panels also weigh more than less efficient (lighter weight) thin film ones. So, you now get back to the issue of dragging around extra weight (up on the roof, no less, where you really don't want it) than would otherwise be saved by utilizing higher-tech, lighter materials in the chassis and body panels. And . . . is your car always parked facing due south (when north of the Equator) at a moderate pitch in summer and on an even steeper incline in winter?

I've come to the conclusion that solar PV is best utilized in larger quantities, up on the roof of your house or workplace, tied to the grid and feeding non-polluting power to it that way. To paraphrase Brock Yates, when it comes to solar PV, there's no substitute for square footage.

Better energy density in batteries is a laudable goal, but it doesn't happen simply because one wishes it so. The ones in the laboratories that you read about today (Envia, etc.) are still a few years away from being produced on an industrial scale. When those are finally here, there will be other more advanced batteries with matching press releases that people will be waiting for, always just a few years away. We just have to be patient regarding the better batteries. But they're coming.

Also . . . while a larger battery pack does take longer to charge than a smaller one, note that the 2013 Leaf is going to feature a faster charger (6.6kWh vs. the present 3.3kWh one) and this alone will effectively drop the charging time - given that the pack size is the same - in half.

Finally . . . I'm curious to know how you can quick charge current-generation Headway and A123 cells in such a short time span without doing long term damage to them.

· Pedro (not verified) · 4 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

I wasn't even thinking of Envia - I believe that they are overall bad batteries because of theirs low lifespan. But unfortunately Nissan is using very primitive batteries. Panasonic batteries that Tesla uses have at least 2 times more energy density.

The PV panels also protect the roof from getting the paint "eaten" up by the sun. Even if I would only gain 5km of range in a day, I would buy them. They should at least be optional.

I know that in the USA there's a lot of pressure from the main stream media to buy big, but here in Europe, a great city car would be something like the Opel RAK-e. That car has efficiency written all over it.

Electric cars, besides all others advantages over the ICE cars, have one that will allow them to improve very fast. They are a lot easier to compare in terms of energy efficiency - we just need to use a mere Kill A Watt meter.

The ability of the A123 cells to charge at 6 minutes was just an example of what can be accomplished. I think a 20 minutes (3C) charge is enough to make the electric cars a lot more viable.

We agree in one thing, aerodynamics is the easiest and cheapest path to improve electric cars range, charging time and efficiency by reducing the need for more battery capacity. The Honda Fit EV has that big advantage over Leaf. And Leaf is not that bad, just look at the Kia Ray EV, what a failed design for an EV.

· Pedro (not verified) · 4 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

I wasn't even thinking of Envia - I believe that they are overall bad batteries because of theirs low lifespan. But unfortunately Nissan is using very primitive batteries. Panasonic batteries that Tesla uses have at least 2 times more energy density.

The PV panels also protect the roof from getting the paint "eaten" up by the sun. Even if I would only gain 5km of range in a day, I would buy them. They should at least be optional.

I know that in the USA there's a lot of pressure from the main stream media to buy big, but here in Europe, a great city car would be something like the Opel RAK-e. That car has efficiency written all over it.

Electric cars, besides all others advantages over the ICE cars, have one that will allow them to improve very fast. They are a lot easier to compare in terms of energy efficiency - we just need to use a mere Kill A Watt meter.

The ability of the A123 cells to charge at 6 minutes was just an example of what can be accomplished. I think a 20 minutes (3C) charge is enough to make the electric cars a lot more viable.

We agree in one thing, aerodynamics is the easiest and cheapest path to improve electric cars range, charging time and efficiency by reducing the need for more battery capacity. The Honda Fit EV has that big advantage over Leaf. And Leaf is not that bad, just look at the Kia Ray EV, what a failed design for an EV.

· Dobbo (not verified) · 4 years ago

I would absolutely buy a 2013 Leaf if it weren't for one flaw.

First the good:
- it's exactly what I'm looking for. Meets my actual needs in every possible way.
- the fact that I can recharge it off my solar panels is great too.

the bad:
- its possibly the ugliest body style I've ever seen. I would be totally embarrassed to drive around in that thing! Pass!

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