What’s Nissan’s Next Electric Car? Company Mulls Its Options

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2011 Nissan ESFlow concept

2011 Nissan ESFlow concept

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The Japanese automaker Nissan has just celebrated the first birthday of its first all-electric production car, the Leaf family hatchback.  

Two years ago however, Renault Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn promised that there would be four all-electric vehicles coming to the U.S. in the near future. 

With cars two and three -- the as yet un-named Infiniti electric sedan and the all-electric Nissan NV200 minivan -- expected by many to be joining the Leaf in the U.S. in the next two years,  some analysts are trying to guess which car will be heading to the U.S. as Nissan North America’s 4th electric car.

According to Automotive News’ Lindsay Chappell, un-named insiders at Nissan say three options are being developed. 

A Small City Car

Smaller than the Nissan Versa, and bigger than a Smart Car, an ultra-compact city car could give Nissan a healthy position in the developing small car segment in the U.S. 

Believe it or not, it’s also plausible: Nissan is already working with Daimler to design the new A segment Smart Car platform, and while there’s no current plans to create a Nissan badged smart car, the chassis developed could be used to create a production city electric car. 

But we’re doubtful Nissan would chose this route: while subcompact cars may be more popular than they once were, the even smaller city car segment currently  occupied by the Smart ForTwo and the Scion IQ just isn’t big enough to offer a huge return on investment.

2011 Nissan Pivo3 concept

2011 Nissan Pivo3 concept

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A Sports Car

Inspired by the Nissan ESFLOW concept car we saw in Geneva last year, a two-seat, rear-wheel drive electric sports would certainly attract more buyers than a small city car, but we’re still not sure it would sell enough cars to be a viable option.

Why? Let us explain. 

Nissan’s gasoline rear-wheel drive sports cars, like the 2012 Nissan GT_R, are hardly mainstream vehicles: they’re niche market cars for racing enthusiasts. 

There’s no mistaking a rear-wheel drive electric sports car would gain Nissan some serious electric car fans -- and perhaps even convert a few Z-drivers if it could produce a sports car with enough performance -- but we don’t think it won’t make enough money from sports car sales to justify the development costs. 

And after spending $5.6 billion on electric car technology, Nissan needs a car that will help it recoup all those development costs.

That said, the ESFLOW we saw last year was certainly one of the most finished concept cars we’ve seen in a long time, hinting that it could be closer to production than we think. 

An Urban Crossover

2010 Nissan Townpod Concept

2010 Nissan Townpod Concept

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The most likely of all options we’ve seen, a small urban crossover car like the Nissan Townpod concept is the car we feel most likely to be Nissan North America’s fourth electric car. 

Quirky like the Nissan Leaf, we’d expect a production version of the Townpod to be a little bigger than the concept version, perhaps being offered as a variant of the current Nissan Cube

Add to that the fact that Nissan used the 2008 Cube as a test-car for the Nissan Leaf, and we think a cube-sized crossover car is the obvious choice for Nissan. 

...Or Perhaps An Everyday Car?

Of course, we might all be wrong. There’s also a strong possibility that Nissan’s fourth electric car will dispense with the geeky gadget-obsessed interior of the Nissan Leaf and go with something more mainstream, modeled on the Renault-Nissan built Fluence Z.E.

Not quite as exciting to drive as the Leaf, the Fluence Z.E. is the first real all-electric car we’ve seen that looks, feels and drives like a regular gasoline car, from its simple-to-read dashboard through to its gear selector and parking brake. 

Could Nissan take the electric car mainstream by making it more conventional, or come up with something we haven’t even thought of?

Let us know in the Comments below. 

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