Can Nissan Revive Its Electric Car Program in 2017?

By · December 27, 2016

2017 Nissan LEAF

When sales of the all-electric Nissan LEAF peaked above 30,000 units in 2014, it appeared the Japanese automaker made a smart early bet on EVs. No other model has sold more than 30,000 units in a single year. At that time, the LEAF was on its way toward dominating the future electric car market the same way Prius has been the perennial leader for hybrids.

Unfortunately, the number of new takers of the LEAF has steadily declined since then. The final tally for US sales of the LEAF in 2016 was 14,000—less than half of where it was two years ago.

With the emergence of 200-mile affordable EVs—like the Chevy Bolt and upcoming Tesla Model 3—fans of plug-in cars have been wondering if and when Nissan will seriously get back into the electric car game with a long-range LEAF. There have been multiple media reports (and a lot of rumors) about a second-generation LEAF for 2018. But details have been scarce.

The first bit of substantial news came earlier this month when Japan’s Nikkei reported that Nissan-Renault will be collaborating with Mitsubishi on a common EV platform. (In late October, Nissan took a controlling stake in Mitsubishi, which was racked by a scandal related to misreporting its fuel economy numbers.) According to Nikkei, as well as Automotive News, Nissan said the goal of the common framework was to reduce the price of an EV by about 20 percent. Company executives believe it will bring the price of its electric cars in line with gas-powered vehicles. Key components, such as the motor, inverter and battery, will be shared.

A drop in price by 20 percent is obviously welcome. But the news reports did not mention anything about driving range. Curiosity was piqued in September, when Renault showed a concept version of its Zoe compact EV that increased its range to about 160 miles on a full charge from a 41 kilowatt-hour battery pack. The Zoe, LEAF and a future Mitsubishi electric car will all share a new common EV platform. (Production and sales of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV subcompact electric car were diminished to a trickle in 2016, and its fate is uncertain. Mitsubishi continues to display exciting new EV concepts.)

Make-or-Break Year for Nissan LEAF

For all intents and purposes, it appears that Nissan and Mitsubishi—once considered the most forward-thinking on vehicle electrification—have become the most hesitant. Another sign of Nissan’s complacency came in June, when Carlos Ghosn, the executive at the helm of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance, started pushing a new Volt-like plug-in hybrid system that would better “meet consumer demand for greater autonomy and fuel efficiency.” In other words, any notion of a bold move for a breakthrough EV car will likely take a backseat to incremental reductions in cost and using some amount of internal combustion to offer more range.

To be fair, these steps seem quite pragmatic. But meanwhile, Tesla isn’t slowing down. Chevy just sold its first 200-mile Bolts. Volkswagen is aiming to introduce more than 30 electric models by 2025. And Toyota, which has long been on the sidelines when it comes to EVs, is now planning to produce an electric car with about 185 miles of range by 2020. The logical takeaway is that Nissan tried to be the visionary leader of the EV revolution when it introduced the LEAF in late 2010—but is now content to watch from the back of the pack.


· · 1 year ago

Brad: do you remember the long conversation we had a year ago, when you mistakenly claimed that the i-MiEV was no longer being made and you then admitted in the comments section that you were mistaken?

I'll ask again: please show me an article from a reputable news source that directly quotes a company official stating that new i-MiEVs are no longer being offered for sale in North America.

You can declare that the car sells poorly (that's true,) that you genuinely hate it (that's an opinion, not a news story) or speculate that it won't be produced as soon as the whole Nissan/Renault/Mitsu thing comes together (a re-badged Renault Twingo is a likely successor in that size/price EV class, but that's what it is: speculation and not verifiable fact)

But until the company puts out a real press release, please don't keep this silly "Mitsubishi killed the i-MiEV a year ago" rumor alive. You're an actual journalist, not a Macedonian teenager!

PS: one year later, my used 2012 jellybean is still going strong. The only thing I've had to have done to it was to get some squeaky brakes dealt with this past summer. Just to piss off all the detractors, I'm going to buy another used one before long for spare parts and keep driving it until the Tesla 3 goes out of production. :-)

· · 1 year ago

Great to hear from you, Benjamin. Good catch. I changed the story to read that production and sales were diminished to a trickle in 2016. I assume those were units left on the lot, but who knows? I love that you remain a strong supporter. I promise not to go Macedonian on you again. And yet, I would say--based on those sales numbers--that the i-MiEV is essentially out of production. Let's see what happens in 2017.

· · 1 year ago

Thanks, Brad. Happy New Year!

Actually, US i-MiEV sales for 2016 are on par with what we witnessed in 2014 and 2015 . . .

. . . which is to say Mitsubishi North America simply refuses to properly market anything they make with 4 wheels that can be plugged in. They could have made a splash several years ago with the Outlander PHEV as well, but essentially blew that opportunity.

Having Carlos Ghosn buy up controlling interest in Mitsubishi is probably the best thing that could happen to them. All the media buzz right now is on the $30K/200 mile EV and I'm really glad those vehicles are finally getting here (can't wait to see a Bolt in person in 2017 and several in our local EV club have deposits on Tesla 3s, which I assume are realistically going to be showing up in 2018.) But the quiet story on the back burner is what Nissan is probably going to be coming up with in the next year or two.

I predict they will be the ones who will give us the $20K/100+ mile EV before anyone else and market it under their trio of brands worldwide. They're in a better position to do this that the Chinese or Indians, who would be essentially starting from scratch to enter the US market (although the director of our local Clean Cities program has been driving a BYD B6 factory loaner lately.)

Meanwhile, even the most ardent of i-MiEV fans will have to admit that all this consolidation from Nissan means that the days for the little egg-shaped overachiever EV is numbered. While you can still buy a new i-MiEV in North America (we're the only place where the wider/longer one is sold,) the car is no longer available new in England as of this past summer. That said, you can still buy it new in something like 30+ countries around the planet, including (no joke) Macedonia! . . .!

· · 1 year ago

Can you guys do a 5 year (assuming 5 year) review on that 2012 i-Miev. That would be a fun read. How the battery is doing, what the car is good for trip-wise at 5 years. All I ever see of long-term reviews out there are 1 year reviews. A five year review would be cool.

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