2018 Nissan Leaf: what we know so far about next electric car (updated)

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Nissan Sway Concept  -  2015 Geneva Motor Show live photos

Nissan Sway Concept - 2015 Geneva Motor Show live photos

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The Nissan Leaf is by far the highest-volume electric car ever sold, with total sales now having passed 250,000 units.

First launched in 2011, the Leaf got some updates for the 2013 model when production for North American sales moved from Oppama, Japan, to Smyrna, Tennessee.

It got a battery capacity upgrade for 2016, boosting its rated range from 84 to 107 miles. That aside, the Leaf has pretty much stayed the same for seven years.

DON'T MISS: New 2018 Nissan Leaf: More Details On New Styling, Range (May 2014)

We know an all-new, second-generation Leaf model is coming sometime soon.

At first, we'd expected it to be a 2016 model—in parallel with the second-generation Chevrolet Volt introduced that year—but a new Leaf didn't appear in 2016.

Or in 2017.

So here's what we know so far about what we're now calling the 2018 Nissan Leaf electric car.

Nissan Sway Concept - 2015 Geneva Motor Show live photos

Nissan Sway Concept - 2015 Geneva Motor Show live photos

Enlarge Photo

This information is gathered from industry sources, Nissan executives, off-the-record chats with people who work with Nissan, and media reports from around the world.

DESIGN

The styling of the 2011 Leaf was certainly distinctive, but it was also polarizing.

In form, today's Leaf is an upright five-door hatchback that's either a large compact or a small mid-size car, depending on how you measure.

ALSO SEE: Nissan Sway Concept Sets The Look For Future Small Cars—And Leaf?

But the details—the rounded ends, the very long lights topped with little fins that stretched to the base of the windshield, and a Space Age-y interior—added up to a car that some loved but others clearly disliked.

Discussions since then have indicated that the next Leaf may be somewhat more conventional in appearance.

One possible indicator of styling direction is the Nissan Sway concept unveiled in March 2015 at the Geneva Motor Show, which the company said pointed toward its future small-car design language.

Nissan Sway Concept

Nissan Sway Concept

Enlarge Photo

While widely presumed to be a lightly disguised version of the next Micra minicar, the five-door hatchback concept is a bit larger than that.

We suspect it has elements that will show up in the 2018 Nissan Leaf, or at least point in that direction.

Nissan design chief and senior vice president Shiro Nakamura said in the fall of 2014 that to expand the next Leaf's appeal into a larger market—beyond early adopters—would require to be be a nice-looking car.

RELATED: 2018 Nissan Leaf: Will Less 'EVness' Make It More Appealing? (Oct 2014)

Then, he said, designers could add more 'spice' in the design for those buyers who might want it—rather than starting with specific design traits that label the vehicle an electric car.

The next Leaf won't necessarily be more conservative, Nakamura argued during an interview at the Paris Motor Show, but simply a very stable, nicely-proportioned car.

And for buyers who want to emphasize the Leaf's electric-car nature, there will be trim, lamps, or gauges that do that if desired.

Lithium-ion battery pack of 2011 Nissan Leaf, showing cells assembled into modules

Lithium-ion battery pack of 2011 Nissan Leaf, showing cells assembled into modules

BATTERY RANGE

Perhaps the single most important facet of the 2018 Leaf will be its rated range, or the different ranges offered if there are multiple battery-size options.

Three years ago, Andy Palmer—who then headed Nissan product development—suggested that the next Leaf would have a range of perhaps 120 miles, possibly as high as 150 miles.

And he strongly hinted that the car might offer a range of battery options at different prices.

MORE: Nissan Leaf Likely To Offer Larger Battery For Longer Range (Apr 2014)

We expect the base model of the next Leaf to offer a range of about 120 miles, a slight increase on the 107 miles of the updated 2016 first-generation Leaf.

But with last month's launch of the Chevrolet Bolt EV, EPA-rated at 238 miles, Nissan knows it has to offer a version of the next Leaf with a U.S. rating of 200 or more miles.

(Some confusion occurs when Nissan executives, discussing projected range, fail to make it clear whether they're referring to tests conducted on the gentler Asian or European test cycle or the more demanding U.S. EPA cycle. The U.S. tests are viewed as producing lower but more realistic range ratings.)

Knowledge of battery chemistry, production technology, and management strategies has progressed considerably since 2009 and 2010, when the specs for the first Leaf battery were frozen.


 
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