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Stuck in the Middle With Nissan's Unelectrifying Leaf

Stuck in the Middle With Nissan's Unelectrifying Leaf
Lysh2006 | Dreamstime

By    |   Thursday, 07 September 2017 07:59 AM

Nissan Motor Co.'s updated Leaf electric vehicle stopped just short of meeting lofty expectations. 

One of the original EV leaders, Nissan had tinkered with the all-electric car for almost seven years as it watched flashier competitors like Tesla Inc.'s Model S and BMW AG's i3 hit the roads.

But on Wednesday, the new Leaf delivered neither the high mileage capable of quelling so-called range anxiety (i.e. how far you can drive before needing to charge) nor the big price cut that could have set Nissan apart from competitors looking to bring battery-powered cars to the masses. 

Car buyers can now drive the Leaf for up to 150 miles (241 kilometers) before needing to charge the vehicle, a distance executives said this week would be just fine for Japan, the first market where the model will be available. The Leaf will launch in the U.S. and Europe next year and the car's range will increase in time, Nissan said Wednesday.

Leaf's range: 150 miles

But for $5,000 more than the Leaf's $29,990 -- roughly the cost of a trim, paint job and extended warranty -- buyers could get a Tesla Model 3 capable of driving 220 miles. 

The company might be right about range anxiety in Japan, where commutes are shorter. But the argument probably won't hold up in major U.S. cities where there just aren't enough charging stations in the right places for drivers tempted to go electric. Especially when gas prices there remain relatively low. 

Plus, the value proposition isn't really there: Drivers would have to pay $199 for every mile of range for the new Leaf compared with $159 for the Model 3 or $93 for the Renault Zoe.

The updated Leaf is a step up from the old version, which cost buyers $294 per mile of range. With sleeker designs, the Leaf also comes with autonomous driving technology that can navigate and park.

But without delivering on the two criteria buyers are using to make most purchases today -- driving distance and price -- it's hard to see how Nissan will help stem the Leaf's losses. Rising global competition, including newer entrants such as Toyota Motor Co. and Chinese carmaker Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd., won't make that task any easier.

In other words, the revamped Leaf is quintessentially middle of the road. And the middle lane is never a great place to get stuck when trying to pass competitors and reach your destination quickly. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Shelly Banjo is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering industrial companies and conglomerates. She previously was a reporter at Quartz and the Wall Street Journal.

© Copyright 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved.

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Nissan Motor Co.'s updated Leaf electric vehicle stopped just short of meeting lofty expectations.
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Thursday, 07 September 2017 07:59 AM
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