Nissan Motor Co. revealed that it will move forward with its plan to develop its next-generation zero-emission car aimed at mass consumers. This despite the fact that sales of its Leaf electric car have not been rising as expected. A look at the work being done by the company’s technical center shows that the planned new Leaf is expected to have increased battery power.
This will allow it to have a driving range of almost 300 miles, far above the EPA-rated 107-mile range of the current version of the Leaf. With the use of carbon fiber, the car is also expected to be lighter than its predecessor.
Another feature is the ability to recharge the battery hands-free. This is made possible by having the car park above an inductive system on the floor which will then charge the battery automatically. While this new model will still have to meet a host of government regulations as well as approvals, the company expects that this new model will lead the brand in mass-marketing this new technology.
The company also believes that autonomous driving will always need innovative electronic safety controls which go well with the electric power systems of electric vehicles. All the prototypes that Nissan will be developing will be Leafs and while they are currently being tested in Japan, testing on the streets of U.S. cities is slated to start soon. One of the problems that the current Leaf is encountering is the issue of gasoline being sold at a cheap price.
Nissan Leaf was released to the U.S. market back in December 2010 and consistently led the EV segment in the U.S. in terms of sales. Lately however consumer demand is dropping. In addition to cheaper gasoline, there has also been an increase in the demand for crossovers and muscle pickups.
As a result, Nissan reported that from January to October of this year, dealers only managed to sell 14,868 units of the Leaf, a 39% drop compared to the previous year. The Leaf was already subsidized with federal tax credit amounting to $7,500 as an incentive to purchase electric vehicles.
This is on top of other incentives being given by state and local units. The company has invested as much as $5 billion in its campaign to promote the use of electric vehicles worldwide, a part of which was spent on building the $1.6 billion manufacturing facility in Tennessee.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn however remains positive in the role of electric vehicles as he believes there will come a time when consumers will eventually shift to electric vehicles. The problem, according to Ghosn, is that it’s hard to predict when that shift will happen. In an interview with Automotive News during the Tokyo Motor Show last October, Ghosn said that nobody will ever imagine a future that has no electric vehicles.
The need for cars that have zero-emissions will increase, Ghosn adds, since regulations on emissions will become more stringent. According to Ghosn, the company will proceed with its kaizen of continuous improvement and never stop improving on its technology. Although the brand has yet to officially acknowledge that the second-generation of the Leaf is in the works, there is the expectation that it will come out sometime between 2018 and 2020.
Engineers at Atsugi however are not afraid of showing their work on future electric vehicles that is expected to form the Leaf's footprint. An example is the lithium ion 60 kilowatt-hour vehicle battery that is already on its late stages of development. This battery has the same dimensions as those of the 30 kWh that was included as part of the 2016 Leaf. The 30 kWh battery in turn was an improvement on the previously released 24 kWh battery.
The 60 kWh battery is currently being tested in the prototypes. In addition to the improved battery, the aerodynamics of the potential new model is also being worked on. Atsugi engineers say that a simple improvement in the design can be a great help for any electric vehicle. Regardless of the type of vehicle for example, the power will go out in various ways and because of this, the internal combustion engine will of course lose energy which is typically in the form of heat.
In addition, the friction that is present in the axles, wheels, and even the transmission can also diminish the efficiency of the powertrain. Thus the Leaf was designed to have improved aerodynamics so it does not have an engine, exhaust system, fuel pump or even radiator. Additionally the airflow on the wheelhouse was improved as well as that of its windshield.
And with the reduced wheel friction, more efficiency improvements are gained than if the same changes were applied on a gas-powered car. Other improvements being planned on the Leaf include the chemical resistance that is present when the battery is being charged. While no actual details were given, the engineers declared that the new battery can be charged much faster. Its current model, the 2016 Leaf, needs around 6 hours in order to be fully charged through the use of a 240-volt electrical current.
Ghosn also revealed that the brand intends to change the way it will market the Leaf. Ghosn says that it in the past, their focus has been on the economic benefits of having an electric vehicle. Thus the brand often used to compare how much a person will save in using an electric car compared to using a gas-powered one. The problem was that when the price dropped to as low as $1.95 a gallon, the comparison worked against the Leaf. For Ghosn, the focus therefore should be on the environmental impact, particularly the emissions and the incentives available.
Citing Europe as an example, Ghosn discloses that many cities are suffering because of poor air quality. Thus there will come a time when some areas are only accessible with zero-emission cars. While the price of gas is still fluctuating, it would be difficult to change the movement of the prices. What is important, Ghosn concludes, it that Nissan will continue to go ahead with its plan for the Leaf.