2013 Nissan Leaf Electric Car To Use New, Cheaper Battery Cells: UPDATED

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Headlight - 2012 Nissan Leaf 4-door HB SL

Headlight - 2012 Nissan Leaf 4-door HB SL

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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.


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Comments (20)
  1. Let's have a little speculation on the heat damaged cells in Arizona. Wonder if that is motivating the change.

  2. With reports of battery degradation continuing to pop up not only in Arizona but now in more temperate locales, one can only HOPE that improved longevity is one of the aims. Given the detailed data that Nissan gather from the mandatory battery exams, they probably know better than anyone how poorly the 1st-gen LEAF battery is panning out. If they can demonstrate a fault by NEC then they may already have a contractual justification for cutting the ties.

  3. John, glad you added the update. Japanese media are often innacurate.

    I'm very skeptical of this story for a couple of reasons:

    1. The engineering involved to change cells AND supplier is not trivial. Design, packaging, battery controller design * calibration; vehicle integration then durability testing would consume probably two years. That means for Nissan to make this change, they would have had to start around two years ago (before the Leaf was introduced). Doesn't seem right to me.

    2. Unwinding a joint venture is not a piece of cake. The plant in Japan is jointly funded; I could not find details on the U.S. plant. Parting company with NEC could be hard/expensive

  4. @Rich: To your second point, it may not be unwinding, it may be an additional supplier. Mitsubishi is going to use two different makers' cells in its i-MiEV, some from its joint venture and others from Hitachi.

  5. @John, thanks. Seems to me the only way this would work is if the battery plant in Tennessee is Hitachi as you mention in your article. Given the low demand so far for the Leaf, there is way too much open capacity in Tennessee to have the battery cells manufactured elsewhere by a second supplier. Again, that means that the plant would have to accomodate fabricating Hitachi cells from the get go, and it seems we should have heard something before now? Dunno. This report might be true, but I'm still skeptical.

  6. Could be that the Smyrna factory just assembles battery packs from cells imported from Japan (or elsewhere). If they use the same cell format 9ie size and shape), which is quite feasible, then it wouldn't make much difference to the pack fabrication.

  7. Ahhhhh! Finally a well written article on the Nissan Leaf.
    Yes, agreed, a 100 real life mile range would do wonders for most people. Better than that would be DC charging stations. Even better than that a drop in price similar to PV, like from 10 to 2.

  8. What is the advantage of the Hitachi battery beside cost?

  9. What am I missing? Where does the original article mention that the battery coming from Hitachi has anything to do with the Leaf? Original: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/business/T120827003564.htm The author of the article above makes that leap I think.

  10. @Bruce: Interesting point. But the lengthy discussion of Leaf sales--the only Nissan model named--makes it the logical car being discussed.

    Perhaps nuances of the original story were lost in translation, and it refers to a different Nissan "eco-friendly" model--that's not named or otherwise described. Japanese readers are welcome to weigh in here, but the Leaf is now Nissan's sole "green" car in the U.S. market.

    If that's the case, I have to think that car is the Altima Hybrid to be introduced for 2014. It would be odd for that model to use Hitachi cells when the Infiniti M35h (the company's only hybrid now sold in the U.S.) used AESC cells. Though, I suppose, not entirely impossible...

  11. The original article appears to have one piece of new information up front with the balance of the article a recounting of facts and summary of related topics. Anything that comes after the one fact up front could be speculation by that author. Which means your article could be interpreted as speculation on top of speculation. Yes, could be the Altima, an infinity M, etc. I think...

  12. Are you going to update the title of your article?

  13. You're speculating the speculation of a speculative article.

  14. Are you going to change the title of your article? Or maybe pull it all together? Have you found anything that suggests the title of your article is accurate?

  15. I know it isn't directly relevant to the US but what implications for Renault? Will they take Smyrna batteries, Japanese ones or a combination?

    Whole story seems odd to me at first glance.

  16. hey, is this news worthy? http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/08/27/us-gm-volt-plant-idINBRE87Q17520120827

  17. Guess so. GCR now has an article about it :)

  18. If it is the same Toshiba battery used in the Honda Fit it has some nice properties, see:

    Lots more articles if you google: Toshiba battery Honda Fit

  19. Joined: Fri Sep 30, 2011 3:39 pm
    Posts: 4
    E-mail to me from the editor of the paper that started this speculation about the Leaf and Hitachi.

    Thank you very much for your inquiry. The story was written by the two reporters in Japanese and translated by one of our staff for the English edition. In the process of translating the article, the translator throught there was only one "eco-friendly" model. The original story, however, mentions two models-- "Altima" and "Pathfinder."
    We are sorry for creating confusion over the story.

    Best regards,
    Yumiko Miyai
    Editor, The Daily Yomiuri

  20. The big question is -- what should believe about the claims that the Leaf 2013 might have 25 to 30 more miles added to its range? Does this sound possible? Where would they get that range without a significant re-design? I do think that the 90 to 100 mile range could be a game changer.

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