Next-generation Nissan Leaf will be designed to be more European

Article by Christian A., on April 15, 2012

The next Nissan Leaf electric car will be designed to be more European. It will also priced be lower, according to Colin Lawther, vice president of Nissan engineering in Europe. In 2011, the Leaf was named the European Car of the Year however, many critics regard it as appearing bland and awkward. He said that the driving range of the Leaf will be given a boost from 160km.

To make the vehicle more stable when accelerating, its power has been retuned. Sales of the Leaf last March were launched in certain markets where EV incentives were offered last year.

Nissan said that by next February, the automaker will begin the rollout of the hatchback in its plant in Sunderland, England, instead of importing it from Japan. By transferring the production of the Nissan Leaf electric car in the UK for European markets from the Oppama plant in Japan, costs will be cut by a third.

The Leaf has a starting price of 25,990 pounds (31,148 euros, $41,597) in the UK. The government offers a 5,000-pound government plug-in car grant. The similar-sized Qashqai has a starting price of 16,495 pounds.

Lawther told Automotive News Europe that one of its major problems is that the “initial purchase price is very high." Pricing for the next generation Leaf hasn’t been revealed yet. The Leaf is produced at the same Sunderland, north east England. This is the same production line as the Qashqai compact crossover.

Lawther said that batteries will be coming out very soon at the same factory. He continued that when it comes to percentage, European content will be in the “high 90s.” For now, the electric motor will still be imported from Japan.

But then again, there are currently plans being developed for it to be produced in the UK as well. Lawther asserts that the production cost savings will stem partly from a combination of lower logistics, decreased import taxes and less exposure to the strong Japanese currency. He pointed out another advantage -- ordering will be shorter by 6-8 weeks.

The Nissan LEAF set to be released at the European market will be manufactured at its facility in Sunderland. For this version, the chassis package has been specifically tuned through the efforts of the engineers working at the Nissan Technical Centre Europe located in Cranfield, UK. These modifications were done to make sure that the LEAF would be able meet the most demanding of roads in Europe, considering that average speeds there are much higher.

Thus the LEAF made for this market allows for a more engaging drive in addition to offering more comfort despite the rather poor surfaces of the road. Modified as well are the brakes which are not only more progressive but come with a regenerative braking system, allowing better use of the braking energy. The efficiency of the regenerative braking system has been improved by 6% and is now at 94%.

Further, the minimum speed needed in order to recover the energy is now lowered from 7 km/h to 3 km/h. For the European market, Nissan made sure to optimize not just the brake performance but the steering weight and even the damper settings. The dampers in particular have been modified to make sure that it lowers the float and results in a more dynamic drive without making any impact on the ride comfort.

For the power steering system, this was recalibrated as well to give a greater feel and even weight when being driven. Everything, of course, made use of the advantages offered by the bespoke EV packaging of the LEAF, particularly wth the way the battery pack has been placed in the chassis ensuring a low center of gravity. These are not the only changes done for the LEAF as the Eco driving mode now includes a “B” setting for its transmission.

Through this B-mode, regenerative braking increases while decelerating is increased. There is also a separate button for the “Eco” that is placed on the steering wheel. What this does is to change the throttle mapping to avoid any harsh acceleration and thereby extend the vehicle’s driving range. On the original version of the LEAF, these two systems worked in tandem to increase the regeneration but only activated through the “Eco” mode.

For the Europe version, they can be controlled independently of each other. Thus drivers will be able to take advantage of the energy that is harvested while the LEAF is braking but not at the expense of being able to access any of the instant acceleration.

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