Approximately two years ago, I got a scoop that the 2017 Nissan LEAF would have 130 miles of range and the 2018 Nissan LEAF would have 150 miles of range. A lot of people didn’t want to believe it. With coming competition from the Chevy Bolt, the Tesla Model 3, and other new plug-in cars, many of us hoped and maybe even assumed that Nissan would pull out a surprise and offer a new LEAF with over 200 miles of real-world range. It seemed like Nissan gave several hints along the way that indicated it would do that as well.
When the 2017 LEAF came out, the leak I received a year earlier turned out to be too aggressive, as the range ended up being just 107 miles. But the statement about the 2018 LEAF range appears to have been spot on the money.
When we first reported on the new Nissan LEAF’s range last night (or this morning if you’re in Europe), we published the range Nissan shared at the unveiling — 400 kilometers (250 miles), which would have beaten the Chevy Bolt and base Tesla Model 3. The problem was that the 400 kilometer rating was based on the Japanese testing system, which is unhelpfully unrealistic. Rough estimates/guesses some commenters tossed around for real-world LEAF range were around 180–200 miles. However, the US press release included this downer of a line: “The car’s new lithium-ion battery pack delivers an estimated range of 150 miles1, which should satisfy the daily driving needs of the majority of LEAF owners.” That 150 miles is also mentioned in the specs table as “cruising range.”
It’s sad, somewhat surprising, and yet also a little validating to see that the 2015 scoop I got was spot on — the 2018 LEAF has landed with a bronze trophy range rating of precisely 150 miles according to the info we have so far. It shares that trophy with its cousin, the Renault ZOE, which is a topic I’ll come back to in a minute.
This 150 mile estimate is for a LEAF with a 40 kWh battery, which is smaller than the batteries in the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. That has disappointed some consumers who expected Nissan to put a 50 kWh or even 60 kWh battery in the next-gen LEAF. However, it also means that the market just got significantly more differentiation in choice. This broader range of choices could considerably boost electric car sales. Research we conducted in 2015 indicated that approximately 19% of EV-driving respondents would choose an electric car with 160 miles of range if it meant saving $5,000 compared to a car with 190 miles of range ($40,000 vs $45,000). Another 21% of EV-driving respondents would go down to 130 miles for a further $5,000 savings (down to $35,000). At the time, there was a dramatic gap between a 107-mile Nissan LEAF and a long-range Tesla, and the price gap matched that. With the 2018 LEAF (150 miles), the Chevy Bolt (238 miles), and two versions of the Model 3 (220 miles and 310 miles), we are going to get real-life results on how many consumers choose each of these different range options.
The new LEAF’s starting price is $29,990 MSRP, as a leaked screenshot we shared last month indicated it would be. That compares to a base Chevy Bolt price of $37,495 (MSRP) and base Model 3 price of $35,000. A price $5,000 less than the Model 3 for 70 miles less range is an interesting offer. Tesla itself offers a 90 mile boost (from 220 miles to 310 miles) for $9,000 more — and we’re very curious to see which option gets more sales. Will the LEAF’s lower pricing and still broadly adequate range draw in many buyers? Or will most EV buyers shun the LEAF’s 150 miles of real-world range and dish out several thousand dollars more for the Bolt or Model 3?
Of course, a car isn’t just its driving range + a price tag. There’s much more at play that might pull a buyer to the new LEAF, the Bolt, the Model 3, the i3, or another electric car.
One big plus for Nissan is that it offers more ProPilot features on the $32,490 SV trim and the $36,200 SL trim.
You have to pay another $5,000 for similar features on the Model 3, bringing its pre-incentives price to $40,000 or even $45,000 if you get the Premium Upgrades Package as well. Want a color other than black? That adds another $1,000 to the price of a Model 3. So, again, a consumer can get similar features for approximately $5,000–10,000 less with the Nissan LEAF, and perhaps even a bigger discount if the consumer is eligible for a US federal tax credit but too late to get one (or get a full one) with the Model 3.
Naturally, styling plays a big role as well for many buyers, as does access to Supercharging, Tesla’s navigation screen, Tesla sales & service, Nissan sales & service, and a number of other highly subjective matters that some consumers care a lot about and other consumers have the opposite opinion about.
I’m happy that Nissan is offering a lower-priced electric car rather than trying to compete with the Model 3 head on. Aside from partnering with Tesla on Supercharging, I think that’s its best potential for moving high volumes of LEAFs.
If you look at Europe, the Renault ZOE (with the same range as the new Nissan LEAF) has been dominating sales there. It is almost definitely going to be the best-selling electric car in Europe this year. That seems to indicate a positive balance between range and price. The LEAF should fit in well, but with its own unique selling points (ProPilot, e-Pedal, and more space).
That said, I assume most electric car buyers in this price segment will eagerly await the Model 3 due to styling, Supercharging, Tesla’s mission statement, fancier navigation, and Tesla’s reputation for performance combined with attractive 0–60 mph times. Electric car buyers who don’t care about a few of these options, however, now have a highly attractive and more affordable option with significant range. 150 miles of range should be enough to cover the vast, vast majority of driving needs. Where it doesn’t, there are other options for such trips that are far less expensive than the $5,000+ premium the Model 3 commands.
In the end, though, the most important question: Which car will you buy?
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