Five Critical Changes for the Next Nissan LEAF

By · December 22, 2014

2015 Nissan LEAF

The Nissan LEAF will be recorded in history as the first mass-produced electric car of the new generation of battery-powered vehicles. More than 150,000 units have been sold since this time four years ago when the small Nissan EV first went on sale in the United States. But four to five years is the common lifecycle span of most automotive models—so with the new year approaching—we’re thinking about the second-generation LEAF, even though it might take another year or two for a new LEAF to hit showrooms.

Here are five ways that the next LEAF will be fundamentally different than the current version. You could also apply these changes and improvements across the entire EV marketplace.

1More Normal Appearance

From the beginning, the looks of the Nissan LEAF have been polarizing. Its protruding headlamps and bulging hips are not to everybody’s liking. The interior gizmo feel conveys a high-tech vibe that works for a novel electric car, but not necessarily a car piloted by those who like to drive. “The current LEAF is aiming too much for an EV-like appearance. Tesla doesn't look EV at all. The Tesla S just looks nice, very sporty, sleek, but very authentic," said Mamoru Aoki, Nissan brand's global design chief, in a May 2014 interview with Automotive News, a trade publication. Expect to see a new LEAF that competes on visual appeal directly against internal combustion models.

2More Range

Andy Palmer, the former Nissan executive vice president who is now CEO of Aston-Market, said in early 2014 that EVs need a range of more than 180 miles to compete against emerging alt-fuel rivals. In addition, Palmer and other Nissan executives previously suggested that a future Nissan LEAF will have the option of multiple battery packs, offering different range levels. Speaking recently with Japanese media, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn hinted that a top-of-the-range Leaf could offer as much as 250 miles due to improvements in battery technology. Even if a breakthrough doesn’t materialize, we suspect that Nissan will do its best to push driving range to 100 miles or greater for the next version of the car.

3More Advertising

According to Ward’s Auto, Nissan had spent $22 million in television advertising for the LEAF in 2014 (through November). That’s 5.5 percent of the company’s total $400 million TV ad spend. In early November, Nissan kicked in another $9 million for its “Kick Gas” campaign. Whether it’s the current model, or the new and improved LEAF coming in a year or two, Nissan will need to amp up its advertising to ensure that consumers are fully aware of a zero-emissions alternative. The effectiveness of the ads will be greatly enhanced when applied to a model that is more attractive and has longer driving range.

4More Competition (Even Internal)

The on-again off-again Infiniti LE—the luxury version of the LEAF—appears at this stage to be once again on the table. The latest news pegs introduction for 2017, just about when a new LEAF hits the scene. That timing gives Nissan-Infiniti enough time to refine the LE’s appearance, and deploy a next-generation battery pack that can achieve triple-digit range. Just how many miles it provides remains to be seen. In any event, we have not yet seen a similar electric model offered in upscale-downscale versions (unless you stretch the idea to include the Chevy Volt and Caddy ELR). The Infiniti LE will provide some level of internal competition. More importantly, the broader auto market is likely to have another dozen or so plug-in options by the time the new LEAF arrives.

5More Noise from Fuel Cells

Nissan vice chairman Toshiyuki Shiga recently told The Japan Times that the company won’t rush into fuel cell cars. Shiga questioned the feasibility of hydrogen fueling infrastructure, and confirmed his optimism about a growing market for electric cars. But at least five other automakers—Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Daimler and G.M.—are applying their optimism to hydrogen plans. We should expect these carmakers to trumpet a “zero emissions” message—and at the same time, undermine EVs with questions about the relatively short range and long fueling times of fuel cell cars. The new level of noise will, at the least, require Nissan to direct its attention to the benefits of battery-powered vehicles as a superior alternative to all other technologies—from hybrids to hydrogen.

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