New Nissan LEAF electric vehicle is displayed after the world premiere in Chiba, near Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. Nissan’s new Leaf electric car goes farther on a charge and comes with autonomous drive technology and single-pedal driving. But whether it can catch on with anyone but the most zealously green-minded remains to be seen. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Nissan adds range to cheaper Leaf, but new drivers are key

CHIBA, Japan — Nissan’s new Leaf electric car will go farther on a charge and has a new type of drive technology and the possibility of single-pedal driving. It will also be cheaper, though the world’s top-selling electric car still won’t match the driving range of its prime competitors.

The zero-emissions vehicle — which Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Co. unveiled in the U.S. late Tuesday and in a Tokyo suburb Wednesday — promises a travel range of about 400 kilometres in Japanese driving conditions or 150 miles in the U.S., before needing another charge. The company is characterizing it as an approximate 40 per cent improvement from up to 280 kilometres or 107 miles for Leaf models on sale now. The distances vary by country because driving conditions and measuring standards are different. The range also depends on what other features are being used such as the car’s heater.

Both Tesla’s Model 3 and the Chevrolet Bolt can travel over 200 miles (322 kilometres) between charging stations. The 200-mile mark is considered by many industry experts as the range needed to ease driver fears that they’ll run out of juice short of their destination.

Brian Maragno, director of electric vehicle marketing for Nissan in the U.S., said the 2018 Leaf will start at $29,990 before a $7,500 federal tax credit, an important price point to current Leaf owners, many of whom will be repeat buyers. The Bolt, by comparison, starts at $36,620 while the Model 3 starts at $35,000.

In Japan, it starts at 3.15 million yen ($29,000) with the most expensive version costing 3.99 million yen ($37,000). The model goes on sale in Japan on Oct. 2, and in January in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

A Leaf with over 200 miles of range likely is coming for the 2019 model year, but it will cost more, Maragno said.

The restyled 2018 Leaf is lower and more sculpted than its bulbous predecessor, and Maragno said it also comes with new features that should attract new buyers. The base model S comes standard with automatic emergency braking, and more expensive model lines have an optional semi-autonomous driving feature that keeps the car centred in its lane and stops it from hitting objects in front of it. Also standard is a 38 per cent increase in power to 147 horsepower. The car can be operated in one-pedal mode that automatically slows or stops the car when the driver eases up on the accelerator, but it still includes a brake pedal, especially for emergencies.

Research has shown that Leaf buyers wanted a car below the $30,000 starting price, but they also wanted more features, Maragno said. Even with the added features, Nissan lowered the price by $690 from the 2017 model, making it attractive to current owners, he said. “For me, it’s important for us to focus on the loyalty piece. You don’t want to alienate those people,” he said.

Nissan is waiting to introduce the 200-mile model because it takes longer to develop, Maragno said. And while that range is important in the U.S., he noted it is not as significant in other markets.

In the gala rolling out event in Japan, Nissan Executive Vice-President Daniele Schillaci stressed that the Leaf was superior to Tesla offerings because Nissan had decades of experience making cars, and had more expertise on safety and other convenience features for cars.

“The new Leaf is not just an EV,” said Schillaci, who heads the zero-emissions vehicle program at Nissan.

The Leaf is the world’s bestselling electric vehicle, selling a cumulative nearly 300,000 so far.

Some analysts are more skeptical about electric cars’ appeal to the broader market, noting the biggest obstacle is their limited driving range per charge. Several breakthroughs in battery technology are likely needed before they become affordable and practical for regular consumers.

Koichi Sugimoto, analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. in Tokyo, says many automakers are selling green models because of tightening emissions regulations, especially in Europe and California, rather than because of what he called “natural sales growth.”

“There really is no outstanding attractive quality about an electric vehicle,” he said, noting drawbacks such as finding charging stations.

Nissan said Japan has 28,000 charging stations and more are being added.

The remodeled Leaf also gets a 6.6-kilowatt onboard charging system that draws more electricity from a 240-volt charging outlet, allowing the Leaf to go from empty to fully charged in about 7.5 hours, Maragno said.

On the day of the Leaf rollout, General Motors announced that the Bolt is now available in all 50 U.S. states. The company had been phasing in the car starting on the West Coast.

Other Japanese automakers have not been as bullish on electric vehicles. Toyota Motor Corp. has been more aggressive about gas-electric hybrids, exemplified in its hit Prius model, and is expanding to plug-in hybrids, as well as hydrogen-powered vehicles.

But the Leaf is a core product for Yokohama-based Nissan, said Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa.

He said more Nissan models will get “electrified,” in the next decade and beyond, as gas engine models increasingly switch to electric versions. Automakers will also have to change to meet new kinds of competition, forming partnerships and acquiring software and connectivity capabilities, not just sticking with traditional engineering.

Although it remains unclear which company may emerge the winner in electric vehicles, many see that switch as inevitable. Tony Seba, an expert on technological evolutions, who teaches at Stanford University, says the gas engine vehicles may go the way of film cameras before the advent of digital photography and old-style phones before the arrival of smartphones.

“Automakers still have the ability to compete, but it’s going to be a totally different world,” he said.

Just Posted

Alberta’s status of women minister joins Twitter debate over women’s marches

EDMONTON — A minister in Alberta’s NDP government has chastised a tweet… Continue reading

Canada faces angry Americans in pivotal sixth round of NAFTA talks

Canada will be hosting an annoyed and angry United States as the… Continue reading

Arts and Craft (Beer) evening set for Feb. 3

Raising money for Red Deer Arts Council

‘Hobbit’ director Peter Jackson making WWI documentary

LONDON — “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson is transforming… Continue reading

Hot summer ticket: $130K could get you on a dive to the Titanic off Newfoundland

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Are you a risk-taking adventurer with $130,000 to… Continue reading

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

Two Canadians, two Americans abducted in Nigeria are freed

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna to Abuja highway

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

Liberals quietly tap experts to write new paternity leave rules

Ideas include creating an entirely new leave benefit similar to one that exists in Quebec

Insurers say Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Average number of days with heavy rain or snow across Canada has been outside norm since spring 2013

Are you ready for some wrestling? WWE’s ‘Raw’ marks 25 years

WWE flagship show is set to mark its 25th anniversary on Monday

VIDEO: Thousands join women’s march events across B.C.

Today marks one year since the first Women’s March on Washington

In photos: Get ready for Western Canadian Championships

Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 start… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month