Turning over a new Leaf
Nissan's midcycle overhaul boosts range, performance
Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
TOKYO -- The re-engineered Nissan Leaf electric sedan delivers a longer driving range, better driving dynamics, new styling and an entry-level sticker that's $5,100 lower than its predecessor's.
Nissan Motor Co.'s overhauled EV went on sale in Japan on Tuesday, Nov. 20, with a no-frills level added below the two trim packages currently offered. All levels got a host of enhancements.
Nissan executives declined to detail the new Leaf's overseas sales schedule. But a person familiar with the plan earlier told Automotive News that the updated EV, to be made at Nissan's Smyrna, Tenn., plant, will reach U.S. showrooms as a 2013 model.
The new Leaf's rollout comes less than two years after the EV's global sales debut in December 2010. Nissan, aiming to be a leader in EV technology, is banking on the revamp to bolster disappointing sales and restore market buzz.
Nissan has sold 43,000 Leafs worldwide since its 2010 launch, but U.S. sales were down 16 percent to 6,791 vehicles through October. The car's lofty sticker price, a factor of its expensive lithium ion battery, is one turnoff to buyers.
Kadota: Nissan listened to its customers.
"We listened to the voices of the customers to integrate their suggestions in these improvements," Hidetoshi Kadota, the Leaf's chief engineer, said at the re-engineered car's Tokyo introduction.
In Japan, the Leaf now gets three trim levels, with an entry model added at the bottom, priced at ¥3,349,500, or about $41,224.
That is down from a starting price of $46,329 for the least-expensive previous version. That package was carried over as the midtrim option, but Nissan lowered its price slightly to $46,251.
Nissan increased the price of the top trim package to $50,878, from $49,973.
Nissan lowered the price of the entry-level model by stripping out content, including the LED headlamps and the navigation system.
Other improvements were made across all trim levels. Among them:
Full-charge driving range was increased 14 percent.
Electric powertrain units were integrated to save space.
Vehicle weight was lightened by 176 pounds.
A new motor boosts 0-to-60 mph acceleration by 3 percent.
The driving range, a key limitation of battery-powered cars, improved to 142 miles under Japan's testing regimen, which does not require the air conditioner to be on.
The previous Leaf had a 124-mile range.
Nissan eked out extra miles largely through weight reductions and other power-saving tricks inside the cabin.
Engineers moved the onboard charger from the rear of the car and integrated it in the front with the DC-DC converter and junction box to save space and lose 66 pounds.
They also changed the structure and materials of the battery module cases. That shed another 44 pounds.
The car also gets a new, more efficient electric motor and regenerative brakes that can recapture energy to recharge the battery even when braking at speeds as low as 2 mph.
A new aluminum roof lining helps insulate the cabin to maintain a constant temperature without straining the air conditioner or heater. A new heat pump improves heating efficiency, but that comes standard only on the two upper trim levels.
The addition of a state-of-charge meter for the battery came in response to complaints that the current Leaf doesn't have one. The old system gave drivers an estimate of how far they could keep traveling with the life left in their battery, but not a readout of how much electricity they had left.
Nissan also improved styling and comfort. Among the tweaks:
Optional leather seats and black interior.
Three additional exterior colors, two white variants and dark metal gray.
Standard lights at the charging ports.
A smaller, lighter plug-in charger.
A more sophisticated charging port lock.
Ratchet level seat lifters, now standard on all trim levels.
An increase in rear luggage space.
17-inch wheels, now offered as options on the two upper trim levels. It was unclear which of these improvements and options might be offered overseas. But executives said they will adjust the offerings to local needs.
You can reach Hans Greimel at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Hans on