Nissan introduces 2018 Nissan Leaf, stressing autonomous driving over electric vehicle technology

Nissan today announced details, availability and pricing of the 2018 Nissan Leaf, curiously stressing that the Leaf is not an electric car (despite the electric drive train).  Instead, the company stressed driver assist features like ProPILOT (lane keeping), ProPILOT Park (parking assist) as a way to appeal to drivers by offering a full package of goodness.  Supposedly stressing the electric drive train isn’t enough to convince drivers to switch to electric cars, and instead there must be more on offer.  Nissan’s package includes an impressive array of driver assist features.

Availability: The 2018 Nissan Leaf will start shipping in Japan first, with the rest of the world later in 2017.  As of this moment, Nissan USA’s home page says “Early 2018”

Range: A 40 kWh battery pack pack is said to give 400 kilometers of range, which translates to 248 miles.  If accurate that puts the Leaf on-par with the Chevy Bolt EV and Tesla Model S, however…  That range estimate is based on Japan’s JC08 test cycle, and a bit of fine print farther down the page says 150 miles EPA range.  Ergo, this isn’t competitive against Bolt or Model 3.

Price:  Japanese price starts at 3,150,360 yen.  They say the price will be comparable to the current Leaf model, while offering far more capabilities.  Ergo, the USA price will be in the mid-$30,000’s.

During the unveiling announcement, Nissan’s leadership claimed they would double sales volume in Japan.  I am finding it unlikely sales volume will do the same elsewhere because at this combination of driving range and price the 2018 Leaf just is not competitive against either the Bolt EV or Model 3.

Nissan Intelligent Driving

Going back several years now Nissan has promised great things for autonomous driving capabilities.  They spun the vision as Zero Emissions Zero Fatalities.  The 2018 Nissan Leaf begins to fulfill that promise.

Here’s how Nissan describes these features:

ProPILOT is a single-lane autonomous driving technology. Once activated, it can automatically control the distance to the vehicle in front, using a speed preset by the driver (between about 30 km/h and 100 km/h). It can also help the driver steer and keep the vehicle centered in its lane. If the car in front stops, the ProPILOT system will automatically apply the brakes to bring the vehicle to a full stop if necessary. After coming to a full stop, the vehicle can remain in place even if the driver’s foot is off the brake. If traffic restarts, the car will resume driving when the driver touches the switch again or lightly presses the accelerator to activate ProPILOT. All these functions can significantly reduce stress when driving on the highway in both heavy and flowing traffic.

ProPILOT Park is a fully fledged system that helps drivers park by automatically controlling acceleration, brakes, handling, shift changing and parking brakes to guide the car into a parking spot.

By combining advanced image processing technology using four high-resolution cameras and information from 12 ultrasonic sensors around the car, ProPILOT Park guides the car into a space safely and accurately. All steering, braking and throttle inputs for various parking maneuvers, such as parallel parking, are automated. The system can automatically identify a parking space around the car so that the driver doesn’t need to set a target parking position. Requiring only three easy steps for activation, this technology liberates drivers from one of the most tedious, and at times the most challenging, tasks of driving.

Another innovation that enhances the Nissan LEAF’s driving experience is the e-Pedal, offered as standard equipment. It allows the driver the simplicity of starting, accelerating, decelerating, stopping and holding the car by using the accelerator pedal alone — a revolutionary innovation that can change the way people drive.

By simply releasing the accelerator, the car will come to a smooth and complete stop and hold without the need to press the brake pedal. With a deceleration rate of up to 0.2 g, the e-Pedal eliminates the need for drivers to constantly move their foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal to slow down or stop. This helps reduce fatigue and increase enjoyment.

ProPILOT is a lane-keeping system that helps keep the driver in the lane, and seems to also maintain distance with the car ahead.  This should reduce a major source of collisions in heavy stop-and-go traffic.  Other car companies are offering similar features.  I got to experience this in the 2015 Hyundai Sonata PHEV, and it was very useful.

ProPILOT Park helps with parking cars, which is kind of stressful in tight situations.  However, the driver must stay in the car while this automated parking thing operates, unlike some other cars where the driver can remain outside the car while it parks itself.

The e-Pedal feature is Nissan’s implementation of the single pedal driving experience.  Unlike the other cars, Nissan’s system lets you completely stop the car just by lifting your foot off the pedal.  The e-Pedal system automatically stops the car safely using a combination of regenerative and mechanical braking.  Other cars require the final stopping to be done by pressing the brake pedal.

In other words, while these driver assist (autonomous driving) features are impressive, other car makers are offering similar and in some cases better features.

Power system

The drive train is higher power, 110 kW, 38% more than the previous-generation Nissan LEAF, and torque has been increased 26% to 320 Nm.

The level 2 charging system is still limited to 6 kiloWatts.    The battery pack occupies the same dimensions as that of the previous-generation Nissan LEAF.  It’s the individual cell structure of the laminated lithium-ion battery cells that’s been improved.

Nissan is promising another Leaf update during 2018 offering more power and longer driving range, at a higher price.

There are Vehicle-to-Home and Vehicle-to-Grid capabilities.  Nissan did not explain whether this will be available outside Japan.  In Japan they’ve long offered a box that connected to the CHAdeMO port allowing the car to power the home, but that product has not been offered outside Japan.

Using vehicle-to-home systems, the battery makes it possible to store surplus solar power during the daytime and then use it to help power the home in the evening. The customer can also recharge the battery in the middle of the night, when prices are lowest in some markets, and then use the electricity during the day to reduce energy costs.

In some countries with vehicle-to-grid systems, Nissan LEAF owners can get incentives from energy companies to improve power grid stability by absorbing demand fluctuation.

NOWHERE IN NISSAN’S ANNOUNCEMENT DO THEY SAY WHAT FAST CHARGING SYSTEM IS BEING USED.  This is an extremely important point because it’s starting to be clear that CHAdeMO is going to lose in the marketplace, and will be supplanted by Combo Charging System.  The press material released by Nissan only says 40 minute recharge time to 80% on quick charging.  It does not say what is the charging rate for that recharging time, nor the charging technology.

Summary

Nissan had first-mover advantage in the electric vehicle market.  They’ve sold over 300,000 vehicles worldwide, making the Leaf the best selling electric car (so far).  They’ve got a track record of reliability which Tesla cannot claim given the number of Tesla cars whose battery packs have caught fire.  Of course some of those battery pack fires occurred following extreme collisions.  But no Nissan Leaf has had a battery pack fire.

In any case, Nissan may be blowing their advantages.  They failed to offer a range/price combination matching the other automakers.

A couple months ago, Nissan announced they would sell their battery manufacturing business to GSR Capital.  It’s widely thought Nissan is doing as many other carmakers have done, and is looking to partner with LG Chem on battery packs.  The Bolt EV was able to offer 60 kWh in a small car BECAUSE OF LG Chem’s battery technology.  Perhaps Nissan’s failure to have a competitive offering is due to having to first unload their own battery manufacturing factory.

 

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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