Why Nissan Has A Trick Up Its Sleeve With The New LEAF

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After the presentation of the new Nissan LEAF, we realized it wasn’t really a new generation, but more a deep workout of the current one, leaving the real “LEAF II” to 2020/2021.

And although the 2018 LEAF had some backlash from the media, due to underwhelming specs, I believe Nissan played it smart and has a trick up its sleeve.

But let’s focus on the bad stuff first, then we go for the so-so items, leaving the juiciest part to the end:


Range — The 40 kWh battery provides some 150 miles (240 km) of EPA range, which is better than the 115 mile average of the competition, but falls behind the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Blame it on the old platform, without space for larger batteries. This will certainly be a dealbreaker for many customers, expecting a 200+ mile car now, and not willing to wait another year for the longer range version.

No TMS (Active Cooling) — Another legacy problem, this time not from the platform itself, but from the battery supplier (AESC). Despite some development (higher density, etc.), this is still the same technology found in the current 30 kWh version, which, considering early LEAFs’ degradation problems, could be another dealbreaker for current owners looking to trade in their old units for a fresh face (& boot).

Charging — Nissan is possibly the only brand capable of replicating (to a point, at least) Tesla’s Supercharger network, thanks to “No Charge to Charge” programs and the presence of fast-chargers on Nissan dealerships around the world. Thing is, because the batteries lack TMS (blame it on AESC’s old technology), they cannot support faster charging than the usual 50 kW, leaving the much whispered 150 kW chargers out of the equation for now, and Tesla as the only effective >100 kW charging network at present.

So-So Items

Design — While not the production version of the stunning IDS concept (maybe for the 2020 LEAF? or just forever a concept?), Nissan did some magic here, transforming the car from a geeky-looking car (I call the current LEAF “Kermit the Frog”) into an okay-looking car, and in the right spec, even attractive.

Technology — The updates (ProPilot, e-Pedal, etc.) were extensive, and with the promise of OTA updates in the future, they place the LEAF only behind Tesla in this category.

Launching Prices — With roughly the same official prices as the current LEAF (thank the old platform for this), it not only undercuts the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3 prices*, but also puts pressure on the remaining competition, which have less range and worse value for the money. (*Although, the Model 3 is not really playing in the same league, as it is a car from the segment above.)

And now the juiciest part…

Nissan’s trick up its sleeve can be explained like this:

“The best selling car in each segment is not the best car, but the best value for the money.”

I think it is undisputed that the best EV for the city is the BMW i3 and the best long-journey EV is the Tesla Model S, yet they are both being outsold by the Renault Zoe (in Europe, where the Zoe is available). A more humble offer, but with a much more reasonable price, the Zoe is Europe’s top selling electric car.

And between the i3 and Model S extremes, and with the ability to go in and out of the city for the occasional long trip, we have several players — Hyundai Ioniq, VW e-Golf, Chevrolet Bolt … and the 2018 Nissan LEAF. These models are all basically going for the same customers. But…

After the first LEAF sales peak (first 4 to 6 months of 2018), Nissan will start to play its cards. Because the new car is based on an old platform, Nissan will have plenty of space to make discounts, undercutting the competition even further, maybe going into the mid-$20,000 arena. And this could last until…

Late 2018, when the new long-range version shows up (can LG Chem, the new supplier, cram 60 kWh into the old platform?). That can add the “wow” factor that the 40 kWh version misses, as the larger battery will allow Bolt/Tesla range levels (225–245 miles EPA). Additionally, the TMS that comes with LG technology will not only increase consumer confidence, but finally open the door to those much anticipated 150 kW fast chargers.

Now, imagine in December 2018 a 60 kWh LEAF with 230 miles of range and 150 kW-rated charging capability for … (drums rolling) … $36,000!

Tasty, isn’t it?

It has been Nissan’s tradition to introduce longer-range versions at the price of the previous most expensive version, so expect the same to happen here.

But Nissan’s Royal Flush comes next, after all of this. In order to give some breathing space for the “old” 40 kWh version, the Japanese carmaker will drop prices of this older version even further, maybe even into the low $20,000 price class (before incentives), becoming then the first legacy OEM to reach electric price parity with ICE models in this segment.

If this does happen — and considering the low development costs of the 2018 LEAF, there is no reasonable reason to expect otherwise — 2019 will be an even better sales year than 2018, because on the one hand there’s the 60 kWh version going for higher-level customers, and on the other, value for money (bargain) hunters jumping all over the cheap 40 kWh LEAF.

As for sales themselves, expect this new v1.3 LEAF to reach over 100,000 units next year (maybe 150,000?), losing only to the Model 3 in the 2018 Best Seller competition. Then, 2019 will build on that performance, maybe with a 20% increase YoY, ending its career with growing sales (as the current one is doing).

In Short: 

Although not as flashy as the Tesla Model 3, the new Nissan LEAF will have the advantage of being cheaper and a true mass market car.

The LEAF will be the first legacy OEM model to reach price parity with its gas/diesel counterparts — if not in late 2018, certainly in 2019.

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José Pontes

Always interested in the auto industry, particularly in electric cars, Jose has been overviewed the sales evolution of plug-ins on the EV Sales blog, allowing him to gain an expert view on where EVs are right now and where they are headed in the future. The EV Sales blog has become a go-to source for people interested in electric car sales around the world. Extending that work and expertise, Jose is also market analyst on EV-Volumes and works with the European Alternative Fuels Observatory on EV sales matters.

José Pontes has 468 posts and counting. See all posts by José Pontes