Nissan Leaf Likely To Offer Larger Battery For Longer Range

Every electric-car owner wants more range; it's practically an immutable law.

Now Nissan executive Andy Palmer has come close to confirming that a longer-range Nissan Leaf is in the cards, though likely not until 2016 or even 2017.

In an interview at last week's New York Auto Show with Palmer, who is Nissan's product chief, he said offering multiple battery-pack options with different ranges in the Leaf was being debated internally.

In general, auto executives rarely discuss future powertrain offerings unless the technology being described is already on the way.

And it's notable that Nissan surveyed Leaf owners early this year, asking them how much more they would pay for a Leaf with a 150-mile range.

Multiple packs

Palmer noted that the Leaf electric car would be on a standard Nissan model cycle of updates every five or six years.

But he said the timing of updates was somewhat complicated by the significant updates made to the Leaf for 2013--just two years into its run--when production for the U.S. market shifted from Japan to Tennessee.

He called the idea of a longer-range Leaf the subject of "intense internal debate," with some parties feeling that the 2014 Leaf's rated range of 84 miles was enough for the vast majority of users--and others feeling that more U.S. buyers could be captured with a range in the triple digits.

In the end, Palmer suggested, there could be "two or even three" battery-pack options offered in future Leaf models--"varying by market" where the demand was strongest.

In the last several weeks, there's been much discussion of whether and when a Nissan Leaf with a longer-range battery option would hit the market.

Nissan Leaf Likely To Offer Larger Battery For Longer Range

Not for 2015?

Specs for the Canadian version of the 2015 Nissan Leaf leaked last week--the only changes are to paint colors--so 2016 would likely be the earliest model year in which a higher-range pack could be offered.

Boosting pack size from the current 24 kilowatt-hours to perhaps 36 kWh would boost range to something in the range of 120 to 130 miles, depending on the added weight of the additional capacity.

A 42-kWh pack, mentioned casually by one Nissan North America executive in another venue, might bring range as high as 150 miles, at least on the EPA test cycle.

And that kind of range would neatly split the difference between the bulk of plug-in electric cars now on sale--with ranges of 60 to 100 miles--and the base Tesla Model S, with a 208-mile rated range.

If Nissan could offer such a car for $35,000 or less--that is, half the base price of the 208-mile Tesla--it would likely reassure a number of potential buyers who simply don't feel that the real-world range delivered by an 84-mile rating is good enough at high speeds, in cold weather, or after inevitable capacity loss.

Success for Nissan

The Leaf has done well for the company, Palmer said, with 85 percent of its buyers new to the Nissan brand (known as "conquests") and 80 percent of them retained within the brand for their next vehicle.

It is already the best-selling electric car in history, with 110,000 sold globally since December 2011.

And Nissan has aggressive goals for raising its sales--and adding more models.

In the market at large, lithium-ion cell prices are low due to overcapacity at the moment, with "intense price competition" among all cell makers.

But Palmer suggested that Nissan is seeing cost reductions greater than the 7-percent annual figure often proposed as the historic norm for small-format consumer cells over the past 20 years.

And that should lead to some exciting electric-car developments in next few years.

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