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PHOTO CAPTION: Nissan Sway Concept car is thought to hint at possible design cues for 2017 LEAF.

2017 Nissan LEAF: Longer Range, New Styling

Nissan currently leads the world in the number of electric cars its sold, but competition is heating up. Here's how it may plan to respond when it introduces the 2017 LEAF.

Published: 16-Mar-2015

First introduced in 2011, the Nissan LEAF has been the most popular electric car sold on the planet with production numbers approaching 200,000 units.

Now its time for a not only a facelift, but also an upgrade in technology, especially since the competition in the category is starting to heat up with both Tesla and GM racing to produce the first 'affordable' - meaning sub-$40,000 - 200-mile range all-electric car: the Model 3 and Bolt, respectively. And while Ford has dismissed speculation that it too is working on a similar program, it would surprise no one if there isn't a stealth program going on at the Dearborn carmaker.

John Voelcker over at Green Car Reports has compiled information from various sources, both off-the-record and available online that hints at what the 2017 model will look like and how it will perform.

Styling is always a matter of personal preference, an 'eye of the beholder' sort of thing, so what the car will actually look like is maybe less important than how it performs, especially what kind of range it will offer. Voelcker and others speculate that the Sway concept car unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show suggests some of the styling cues we may see in the new LEAF. What Nissan is saying, through its design chief and senior vice president, Shiro Nakamura, is that the car will be "a very stable, nicely-proportioned car." For buyers interested in emphasizing its electro-ness, "there will be trim, lamps, or gauges that do that if desired."

On the important question of driving range, Voelcker picks up on comments last year by Andy Palmer, then head of Nissan product development, who speculated that the next LEAF will have a range of 120 miles per charge, and possibly even up to 150 miles. This suggests to him that Nissan may follow Tesla's lead and offer various sized battery packs at different pricing levels: more range, higher sticker price. Tesla offers both a 60kWh and 85kWh option, having dropped its 40kWh pack due to negligible orders.

The first LEAF was officially rated by the EPA at 73 miles, which the 2013 model upgrade to 84 miles. Jumping to the 120 mile mark, might attract a larger buyer segment, Voelker speculates. What might account for the 142% improvement in range? Likely improvements in battery energy density. While Nissan has sourced its lithium cells from its joint venture with NEC, its Renault alliance partner also has been using LG Chem cells, the same company that General Motors uses for its Volt electric hybrid. Since Nissan assembles its battery packs near its Tennessee assembly plant where US LEAFs are built, it could make sense to source its cells from LG Chem, whose plant is located in Holland, Michigan, especially since both commercial airlines and now air cargo carriers are determined to stop the bulk shipment of lithium batteries by air.

From the welter of electric and plug-in hybrids cars coming in the same 2017-2018 window, at least two promising ranges up to 200 miles, Nissan has to up its game if it plans to keep the lead as the world's most successful electric car manufacturer.

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