While Chevrolet beats the drum for the Bolt EV 200-mile electric car it will likely launch before the end of next year, Nissan has been relatively quiet about its plans to upgrade the Leaf's current 84-mile range to compete.
But at yesterday's annual meeting, a relatively conventional-looking Leaf with some writing on the side apparently previews an upcoming model with far greater range.
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As noted by Transport Evolved and HybridCars.com, CEO Carlos Ghosn said Nissan is developing a Leaf battery pack with longer range that offers a “peace of mind” range providing “comparative mobility to today’s conventional vehicles.”
On display at the event was a blue Leaf with the words "Advanced R&D Electric Vehicle" on the sides, above the well-known Nissan "Zero Emission Vehicle" logo.
That was one of two Leafs flanking Ghosn on stage--the only Nissan vehicles shown--with the other being a white Leaf fitted with the company's latest experimental autonomous-drive technology.
Nissan Leaf 'Advanced R&D Electric Vehicle' shown at company annual meeting, Yokohama, Jun 2015
But the blue "R&D" Leaf had subtle differences from the 2015 models on sale today.
For one thing, it appeared to have less ground clearance than a conventional Leaf, with what appeared to be a carbon-fiber covering over what might well be a thicker battery pack under its floor.
Other details included different LED running lights and lower skirts around the car's perimeter that appeared to have a carbon-fiber effect.
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“The vehicle that stands to my left," Ghosn said, nodding to the white car, "features the latest versions of hardware and software that Nissan is developing."
“The vehicle that stands to my right is another advanced technology breakthrough"--the blue R&D car. "It explores how far we can extend electric vehicle range by making changes to the battery.”
“Nissan is exploring new materials and chemistry solutions in order to make thinner, lighter weight and less costly batteries," Ghosn elaborated.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn presenting at company annual meeting, Yokohama, Jun 2015
"We foresee the day when you leave your home with a full charge, and are able to go about your day with no concerns…then return home with ample charge.”
He then cued up a video--the one that opens this story--taking place in the near future, that demonstrated a routine day for the owners of such a vehicle.
Transport Evolved cleverly captured the video, edited out of the livestream from the meeting--it's about 42 minutes in if you want to view the entire stream--and then removed a few of Ghosn's comments.
Note that the range of 544 km (338 miles) shown in the video would likely be based on the gentler Japanese test cycle; a comparable U.S. EPA rating might be something like 220 to 260 miles.
Then came the meat of the story: "But we will not wait for ... completion [of advanced battery research] to move forward," Ghosn said.
2015 Nissan Leaf
"Later this year, you will hear more about our initial steps to increase EV range,” he promised.
Which we suspect means one of two things: Either the next-generation 2017 Nissan Leaf will be revealed, or rumors of a longer-range option for an otherwise relatively unchanged 2016 Leaf may prove to be correct.
We won't speculate beyond that, though we'd note that the blue Leaf is likely just a cleaned-up research vehicle.
The company couldn't sell a Leaf with notably lower ground clearance than the current version, due to market requirements, vehicle regulations, and simple practicality.
So the demonstrator was most likely an older vehicle fitted with a development pack that doesn't reflect the packaging of any production version longer-range pack.