As it enters its third model year, the Nissan Leaf electric car is expected to get a number of updates and improvements for 2013.
Now, it appears one of them is a change in the lithium-ion cells used in its battery pack.
A new report on Japan's Daily Yomiuri Online news site says that the 2013 Nissan Leaf will use cells supplied by Hitachi, rather than the ones from Automotive Energy Supply Corp. that are used in 2011 and 2012 Leaf models.
According to the story, Nissan is making the change to reduce the cost of the battery pack.
UPDATE: We reached out to Nissan Americas for comment on the report, but the company's Katherine Zachary replied only that Nissan "does not comment" on any "speculative reports" about future products.
Given the $1.4 billion in low-interest loan funds from the U.S. Department of Energy that Nissan has used to build a cell fabrication plant adjacent to the Smyrna plant where it will build the 2013 Leaf, though, we have to scratch our head over the idea that it would switch cell-makers this late in the game.
We suspect that in the end, there's more to this story than we're seeing at the moment. We'll keep you updated as necessary.
Sales of plug-in electric cars have been lower than manufacturers' projections, leading to something of an oversupply of lithium-ion cell capacity.
Nissan now appears to be turning that to its advantage, by going with the lowest-cost vendor it can find whose cells meet its specifications.
What remains unclear is whether the lithium-ion cell fabrication plant-- which Nissan has now erected beside the Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant where it will build the Leaf--will fabricate Hitachi cells or AESC cells.
AESC is a joint venture between Nissan and Japan's giant NEC electronics corporation, whereas Hitachi is entirely independent of Nissan.
It's also unclear whether cheaper cells would also give the Leaf more range than its current 73-mile EPA rating.
Some critics have concluded that a real-world range of 100 miles is the minimum necessary to get U.S. buyers to consider battery-electric vehicles that do not have range-extending gasoline engines.
Other changes to the 2013 Nissan Leaf include options for an upgraded 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger, leather seats, and a better cabin heater.
We've reached out to Nissan Americas and will update this story as necessary.