Bigger battery, more range, more power, more features, later than expected.
The huge Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that runs in Las Vegas each year is slowly turning into the CE(V)S as more car companies choose to make major new models announcements there.
This year’s CES has been no exception – with Nissan confirming that it is beginning production of an updated model offering a 62kWh battery option.
A little bit of history is needed here, as the 60-ish kWh version has been Nissan’s worst-kept secret since sales of the second generation (2018) model began in late 2017.
Originally expected to be offered as one of two battery size options with the second generation model, the 60kWh battery version was delayed, and delayed again, throughout 2018.
Given the knowledge that a bigger battery was in the wings, the motoring press was, as a result, quite scathing about the fact that Nissan seemed to be missing the boat in terms of advancing EV technology, given in 2011 they were the first ever mass-market, ground-up EV design to go on sale.
At the end of 2017, the second generation Leaf (with a 40kWh battery and 280km WLTP range) was not even matching the range of the newcomer Chevrolet Bolt (at 380km) or even the then recently upgraded Renault Zoe (at 300km).
In 2017, a 60kWh Leaf would have been seen as a market leader, further advancing the technology as others were striving to match it.
In 2019, the release of a bigger battery for the Leaf is now seen as a catch-up rather than an innovation, given new competitors like the Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro already offer longer range vehicles (with faster charging systems) than the 62kWh Leaf.
Also, now that Tesla is almost exponentially increasing its Model 3 production, many possible early larger battery Leaf buyers are now likely to wait to compare the two as the Model 3 will soon arrive in Europe and, in late 2019, Australia as well.
Given a 62kWh Leaf will not be a lot less in price to the base Model 3 – Nissan may have a hard time selling the larger battery version in the numbers it would have likely seen in 2018.
Anyway, so much for brickbats to Nissan for delaying the EV revolution – what does the 3.ZERO Leaf offer?
Well, it will come in two versions – the 3.ZERO which retains the 40kWh battery, but will feature such improvements as a larger infotainment screen, Nissan Connect app, new colour options and a two-tone paint option.
The second version, called the 3.ZERO e+, has the above improvements PLUS the 62kWh battery and a more powerful 160kW motor – together offering a 385km rated range on the new WLTP test cycle.
(Which will probably translate to a real-world range of around 350km. We will await the US EPA rating of the e+ with interest, as their ratings are generally spot-on for achievable driving ranges).
Charging is also improved, offering 70kW DC fast-charging speeds (peaking at 100kW). However a note of caution needs to be sounded here, as Nissan are sticking to the CHAdeMO standard for DC fast-charging.
As mentioned in earlier articles here on the ‘plug-war’ between CHAdeMO and CCS, CCS is currently winning – both in the number of chargers being installed, as well as in offering charging speeds of up to 350kW with the current crop of CCS chargers being rolled out. (Including here in Australia).
Meanwhile, all the CHAdeMO chargers currently installed are a maximum of 50kW (and many rather less). In fact, it is only a couple of Japanese manufacturers that are persevering with CHAdeMO – all the others have moved to CCS, or are in the process of doing so. (Including Tesla).
Order books for the Leaf 3.ZERO and 3.ZERO e+ are now officially open (for European, Japanese and American buyers) with first deliveries of the 3.ZERO in May, and the e+ sometime mid-year.
What this means for the announced June 2019 arrival of the 2018 Leaf in Australia (effectively ‘Leaf 2.ZERO’) is now an open question.
Will Nissan Australia stick to bringing in an already superseded model that does not have the bigger battery option?
By doing so, they are likely to end up selling almost none of them as consumers rush to snap up the cheaper priced alternative of the Hyundai Ioniq Electric (WLTP range of 212km), or the likely similar priced (but better specification) Hyundai Kona Electric (WLTP range: 446km), Tesla Model 3 base version (350km range??), or even the Kia Niro at around 450km WLTP range. (If that one hits our shores in 2019).