After seven years, Nissan has finally unveiled the follow up to its groundbreaking Leaf electric car, which is set to go head to head with the Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt in 2018.
The original Leaf was the first mass market electric of the modern era and remains the best-selling model worldwide to date, despite having a maximum range of just 107 miles per charge.
The new one can go 150 miles, well short of the Model 3’s 220 miles and Bolt’s 238 miles, but it will cost significantly less than either.
Brian Maragno, director of electric vehicle marketing for Nissan in the U.S., said the 2018 Leaf will start at $29,990 before a $7,500 federal tax credit, an important price point to current Leaf owners, many of whom will come back as repeat buyers. The Bolt, by comparison, starts at $36,620 while the Model 3 starts at $35,000.
A Leaf with over 200 miles of range likely is coming for the 2019 model year, but it will cost more, Maragno said.
The restyled 2018 Leaf is lower and more sculpted than its bulbous predecessor, and Maragno said it also comes with new features that should attract new buyers. The base model S comes standard with automatic emergency braking, and more expensive model lines have an optional semi-autonomous driving feature that keeps the car centered in its lane and stops it from hitting objects in front of it. Also standard is a 38 percent increase in power to 147 horsepower. The car can be operated in one-pedal mode that automatically slows or stops the car when the driver eases up on the accelerator, but still includes a brake pedal.
Research has shown that Leaf buyers wanted a car below the $30,000 starting price, but they also wanted more features, Maragno said. Even with the added features, Nissan lowered the price by $690 from the 2017 model, making it attractive to current owners, he said. "For me, it's important for us to focus on the loyalty piece. You don't want to alienate those people," he said.
CAN CHEVY BOLT ZAP TESLA?
Nissan is waiting to introduce the 200-mile model because it takes longer to develop, Maragno said. And while that range is important in the U.S., he noted it is not as significant in other markets.
The 2018 version also gets a 6.6-kilowatt onboard charging system that draws more electricity from a 240-volt charging outlet, allowing the Leaf to go from empty to fully charged in about 7.5 hours., Maragno said.
Nissan was to roll out the new Leaf at a press conference Tuesday night in Las Vegas and later in Tokyo.
On the day of the Leaf rollout, General Motors announced that the Bolt is now available in all 50 U.S. states. The company had been phasing in the car starting on the West Coast.
The Associated Press contributed to this report