Nissan’s 2016 Leaf Goes the Distance

Nissan on Thursday introduced the 2016 Leaf with an available 30 kWh battery, which provides the all-electric car with an EPA-estimated “best-in-class” range of 107 miles — a range increase of 27 percent over the previous model.

The new battery is standard for Leaf SV and Leaf SL models. In addition to the improved battery, this year’s Leaf blows in with an enhanced IT system that is more user-friendly, Nissan promised, and provides drivers with greater vehicle connectivity.

The 2016 Leaf’s greater range comes at a slightly higher upfront cost. The 2016 SV model carries a sticker price of US$34,200 — up from $32,100 for last year’s model — while the SL model jumps from $35,120 to $36,790.

The basic Leaf S, which will continue to be available with the 24 kWh battery, will remain at $29,010. Buyers will be able to take a federal tax credit of $7,500 for the all the models; many states offer rebates as well.

“With the introduction of the 2016 Leaf, we’re the first automaker to bring to the mass market an EV that offers more than 100 all-electric miles in range for a price tag under $30,000 after the federal tax incentive,” said Nissan spokesperson Paige Presley.

“Nissan also continues to work closely with charging partners to grow the quick-charging network across the country,” she told TechNewsWorld. “We also offer two years of complimentary charging for new Leaf buyers in select markets, which further boosts Leaf drivers’ range confidence.”

Loaded With Features

Nissan announced several other enhancements, including audio and connectivity upgrades, for the 2016 Leaf. The standard Leaf S features NissanConnect with Mobile Apps, with a 5-inch color display. The SV and SL grades offer NissanConnect with Navigation and Mobile Apps, with a 7-inch color display, and with multitouch control and Nissan Voice Recognition as standard features.

For the 2016 Leaf S, the NissanConnect with Mobile Apps system includes a Bluetooth hands-free phone system with a USB connection port for iPod and other compatible devices. The SV and SL grades offer a 7-inch color display with multitouch control; Nissan Voice Recognition for navigation and audio; HD radio; and SiriusXM Travel Link for weather, fuel prices, movie listings, stock info and sports. A SiriusXM subscription is required.

Best in Class

All the Leaf models are powered by an 80-kw AC synchronous motor, which can generate 107 horsepower along with 187 lb-ft of torque. As the Leaf is an electric vehicle, there is no tailpipe and thus no direct emission of CO2.

Nissan, Japan’s second-largest automotive company, was quick to point out that the 30 kWh battery is “best in class” with its range of 107 miles. This is a noticeable increase in distance, but it does trail the higher-end luxury models.

“This is very much excluding anything from Tesla,” said Peter Harrop, lead analyst at IDTechEx.

“The Leaf is the mainstream affordable EV and is still the best-selling EV,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Tesla hasn’t sold as many cars, even if it is the sexy vehicle that gets all the press. If there is one shortcoming with the Leaf right now, it is not a visually appealing car,” he added. “If it went past you on the road, you probably wouldn’t notice, and it is clear more can be done with the designs of the EV products right now.”

Nearing the Tipping Point

Sales of EVs are still small and actually have been flat in the United States, according to IHS Automotive.

“The adoption of EV is still at its infancy stage globally,” said Sujeesh Kurup, automotive and transportation consultant with Frost & Sullivan.

“In order for EVs to compete with hybrids like the Prius, the price of the EVs needs to be around $25K with real-world electric range greater than 150 miles per charge,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The prime enabler of reaching these targets [is] lowering battery pack cost. As the battery pack cost reduces, the cost of EVs will decrease.”

As with other technology, the costs could come down, and that in turn could drive sales, making EVs a more compelling product.

“When we get to the tipping point, suddenly everyone will want one — but that could take a few years at least,” said IDTechEx’s Harrop. “I predict that in five to 10 years, EVs will outsell hybrids.”

Less Pain at the Pump

Greater range is what truly will make or break the EV market, especially as gasoline prices were the lowest for a Labor Day weekend in years. Falling fuel prices makes it hard to justify the higher sticker price of a car that for all intents and purposes still has a limited range.

“This is something that is always going to be a hurdle for the EV market,” said Devin Lindsay, principal analyst at IHS Automotive.

“Drivers have to know how they plan to use the vehicle and whether they can live with its limitations, and it is something that people consider when using for commuting,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“However, on the battery side, we’re starting to see the breakthroughs where the distance is improving.”

The fact that the new Leaf models with larger capacity cost more is still an issue, but “people are used to paying more for larger engines,” Lindsay added, “and even with the lower gas prices, it is still cheaper than pulling up to the fuel pump.”

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. His work has appeared in more than three dozen publications, and he is the co-author of Careers in the Computer Game Industry (Career in the New Economy series), a career guide aimed at high school students from Rosen Publishing. You can connect with Peter on Google+.

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