History is full of pioneers that couldn’t go the full distance. Why didn’t Kodak come up with Photoshop first? Why isn’t Sony the inventor of the iPod — anyone who had a Walkman in the 80s was suuupper cool (especially the yellow waterproof version). And why didn’t Blockbuster invent Netflix first? The point is, just because Nissan put a 100-mile all-electric car in the garages of average folks doesn’t guarantee it future success.
Nissan has begun showing teaser images of the all-electric, all-new Nissan Leaf, so a new version is coming soon. The Nissan Leaf is kind like the Model T of electric cars. Henry Ford’s historic car wasn’t the first, but it’s the one that changed everything, the one we learned about in school and the one car that gets the lion’s share of the credit, deserved or not, for putting America on wheels.
Similarly, electric cars have been around for a long time, but it’s the Leaf that first got the formula just right in the modern era. In order for the Nissan Leaf to continue its Model T kind of success, there are five things the new Leaf must have.
If you look at the current Leaf, the price seems unbelievably low. Get a base model and add the federal tax credit many drivers will get, and the price is below $25,000. Electric cars are expensive mainly because the battery technology is expensive. Still, the near-$40,000 2017 Chevrolet Bolt seems pricey by comparison, even though the Bolt’s range is more than double that of the current Leaf. It’s the balance between price and range that Nissan can and must get just right.
The new Leaf needs to have a range of around 200 real-world miles. I would say they have to beat the Bolt’s 238, but that’s kind of a pointless race. However, if Nissan can make a case for something in the 190-to-210 range, combined with a price that’s lower than the Bolt’s, that will work. Besides, EV range isn’t really about total driving distance; it’s more about convenience. Sure, this is mainly a psychological issue — most drivers never use their car’s full range in a day. But psychological barriers are just as strong and valid as physical obstacles.
This is exactly why the Chevy Bolt is making waves. Its advertised range is 238 miles. I doubt anyone will actually drive that far in a single trip — but they could. What really struck me about the Bolt was that I drove it to and from work several times during a 3-week period without having to even THINK about charging. That’s the benefit of a long range — it removes the one thing that keeps EV shoppers from becoming EV buyers: worry. If the Leaf comes in with a little less range and a lower price than the Bolt, that will work out well for Nissan.
Personally, I wouldn’t buy a car without Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. I don’t care if the car runs on gasoline, electricity, recycled Kerry-Sanders bumper stickers or warm feelings, it’s a no-go without CarPlay. It’s easy to use and has an excellent “at-a-glance” layout that really does reduce distracted driving. I have to be honest, I personally own a 2015 Nissan Murano. It’s a great car but lacks CarPlay connectivity, and that makes me think I will soon be replacing the car. I understand the new Nissan Maxima has it — the all-new Nissan Leaf better have it, because it’s exactly the kind of thing EV buyers will want and use.
Based on size alone, electric cars are disproportionately expensive compared to gasoline-powered cars. The Leaf is probably the one car that runs counter to this trend. Still, a nicely equipped 2017 Nissan Leaf SL is roughly the price of a loaded Nissan Altima. As the novelty of an all-electric car wears off, cars like the Leaf will have to meet the expectations of younger buyers who see electric cars as just another choice that’s always been there, not some Futurama-like cutting edge sci-fi tech. I’m not saying the Altima and the Leaf are the same kind of car, but for the same money, the Altima comes off as a more premium sedan, especially inside. That gap should be lessened with the upcoming Leaf. Also, Nissan, I’m begging you, put Zero Gravity seats in the new Leaf — those seats are one of the few things in the automotive world that works exactly as promised.
ProPILOT and Active Safety
If Nissan is going to have a self-driving car like they say, it will likely be the Leaf. That, plus the abundant safety tech today’s drivers expect, means the next Nissan Leaf will need to have plenty of active safety features. Plus, Nissan’s ProPILOT system is already in use in some Nissan vehicles outside the U.S. It’s not a full self-driving system, but more like Volvo’s Pilot Assist, where driver interaction is required but some assistance with steering, braking and accelerating comes from the car itself. It’s the first step on the road to self-driving cars and offers big safety benefits today. The new Leaf should have ProPILOT plus these features: forward-collision warning and forward-collision mitigation, blind spot monitoring, lane-departure correction, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and some version of rear cross-traffic alert. The Leaf already has a 360-degree parking camera available, and the system just needs to be updated with a slightly better screen and more seamless image