Nissan's next EVs: More mainstream, better battery

New power packs expected by 2017

Nissan Motor Corp. wants its next-generation Leaf electric vehicle to get more mainstream styling and a new battery that greatly increases its range. And Infiniti’s delayed electric car will debut with the improved battery by early 2017.

Nissan executives shed more light on the automaker’s next EVs, saying better range is key to higher sales. Nissan launched the Leaf in December 2010 and has already improved its performance. But engineers are working on a big jump with a revamped battery around 2017.

A new battery chemistry will debut by then for use by Infiniti and Nissan, said Andy Palmer, executive vice president in charge of Nissan’s zero emissions and Infiniti businesses.

“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 last month at the Beijing auto show. “This really is the game-changing technology.”

Longer range

Palmer declined to offer a target range. But EV batteries must deliver up to 300 kilometers, or 186 miles, for the cars to present an everyday alternative to the hydrogen fuel cell cars that rivals are developing, he said.

The Leaf came to market with an EPA-rated range of 73 miles on a full charge. Its range climbed to 84 miles in the 2014 model year, partly through such tweaks as a more efficient heating system.

Nissan plans more improvements in the current-generation Leaf with a battery tuned for longer life in hot climates. That power pack will arrive “soon,” Palmer said.

Nissan has not announced timing for the next-generation Leaf. But Palmer said the car is on a normal product cadence, from a full global launch dating to 2013: “I think if you thought about a normal model cycle from 2013, that would be more realistic.”

That would put the next Leaf’s arrival just after Nissan’s Power 88 business plan, which ends March 31, 2017, he added.

The Infiniti EV, however, will go on sale “close enough to be counted” as part of Power 88 and should arrive before the luxury brand gets its long-awaited top-shelf halo car, Palmer said.

“I think the EV will come earlier,” Palmer said, citing tightening government emissions rules, particularly in China. “To some extent, EV is now becoming practically a requirement.”

Better batteries

The Infiniti EV will get the company’s next-generation battery chemistry and feature wireless inductive charging, he said.

Infiniti had delayed the EV to wait for better battery technology. The debut was initially slated for 2014.

The Infiniti EV may have a greater range than the Leaf because its sedan packaging can accommodate a bigger battery.

In terms of styling, Nissan will keep the hatchback layout for the Leaf but seek a more mainstream design.

Mamoru Aoki, the Nissan brand’s global design chief, said EVs no longer need to grab attention by looking different. He cited the sleek Tesla Model S sedan.

“The current Leaf is aiming too much at an EV-like appearance,” Aoki said. “Tesla doesn’t look EV at all. The Tesla S just looks nice, very sporty, sleek, but very authentic.”

The next Leaf will keep certain cues denoting its electric nature, such as no grille aperture. But it will cleave more closely to the Nissan brand’s new unified design language.

Shiro Nakamura, chief creative officer for the Nissan and Infiniti brands, said it will get the brand’s new V Motion plunging V-shaped front fascia and the floating roof evoked by blacked-out pillars, as seen in the redesigned Rogue crossover.

Said Nakamura: “We want distinctive, yet more mainstream.”

You can reach Hans Greimel at -- Follow Hans on Twitter: @hansgreimel

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