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Next-gen Leaf: More tech despite low sales

Automotive News | 11/16/2015 

ATSUGI, Japan -- Nissan Motor Co. is barreling ahead with development of a next-generation zero-emission car for the mass market -- despite its Leaf electric vehicle's low sales volume.

Based on glimpses of work being done here at Nissan's technical center, the next Leaf could carry far more battery power, allowing for a full-charge driving range of close to 300 miles, instead of its current EPA-rated range of 107 miles.


The envisioned car will be lighter, using carbon fiber. It will permit hands-free recharging, allowing owners to park over an inductive system floor mat that does the charging automatically.

And although autonomous driving faces a gantlet of government regulation and approvals, the future Leaf is being readied to lead Nissan's plunge into mass-market use of that technology. The company's reasoning is that the new age of electronic safety controls needed for autonomous driving works hand-in-hand with the electric power systems of EVs.

Prototype vehicles with Nissan's most advanced autonomous-drive technologies prowl the public streets of Japan, and one will soon begin testing on U.S. streets. The prototypes are all Leafs.

Problem: Cheap gasoline

The determination behind the project contrasts with Nissan's meager rewards to date for pioneering in mass-market EVs. The Leaf went on sale in the U.S. in December 2010 and was perennially the U.S. EV segment sales leader. But consumer appetite for the car has declined.

Dogged by the return of cheap gasoline and rebounding demand for brawny pickups and crossovers, Nissan's U.S. dealers sold just 14,868 Leafs this year through October -- a decline of 39 percent from a year earlier.

The car is subsidized by a $7,500 federal tax credit designed to encourage EVs, as well as various state and local purchase incentives. Nissan has invested $5 billion in its global EV campaign, including $1.6 billion to build a battery manufacturing plant in Tennessee.


But Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn remains one of the industry's biggest advocates for EVs. He says an industry shift to electrification is inevitable. The only caveat, he says, is how fast that shift will occur.

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