Nissan Eco Vehicles
Nissan is updating its fully electric Leaf for 2013, hoping to jump-start its disappointing sales performance. North American models now are assembled at the company's Smyrna, Tennessee, production site, which has been expanded to accommodate annual production of up 150,000 Leafs. Nissan itself knows it won’t be building that many for a while—but it may take an even longer time than the company thinks. This past November saw CEO Carlos Ghosn admitting that the car would miss its U.S. targets, with just 9819 units unloaded here last year—fewer than half of the expected total. Nissan's competitors aren't exactly smiling about the predicament, either, as many of them have sunk considerable funds into the development of their own EV programs. It appears so far that Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn's big gamble on fully electric transportation hasn't paid off at all.
Primary among the changes for 2013 is the
addition of a new entry-level S trim, which joins the mid-level SV
and upmarket SL models and addresses criticism Nissan received for
not offering a base car. The Leaf S eliminates the navigation
system, cruise control, and the Carwings telematics system, which
allows for charging and climate control functions to be accessed
remotely using a smartphone. The cheap(er) Leaf also comes with
steel wheels with plastic covers, while the SV retains 16-inch
aluminum wheels and 205/55 rubber and the SL gets 17-inch aluminum
wheels with 215/50 tires.
Inside, the Leaf S offers a
4.3-inch LCD screen in place of its spendier siblings’ seven-inch
display and the cloth upholstery is offered in only one color:
black. The SV receives a more textured, grippy fabric, available in
gray or black, and the SL gains black leather seats—a material
somewhat inconsistent with the car's greenie aspirations. All trim
levels include heated seats. That luxury might seem surprising, but
because it takes less electricity to warm the seats than the whole
interior, it reduces the demand placed on the standard HVAC system,
thus improving the Leaf's range. Two new colors—Metallic Slate and
Glacier White—and an optional high-performance audio system come
onboard, as well.
While the 107-hp electric
motor and the batteries remain unchanged, the Leaf's range is said
to improve somewhat thanks in part to a new heater system that is
said to use less energy. There is a newly available “B mode” that
increases regenerative braking. Aerodynamics have been slightly
improved as well by modifying the underbody and the rear diffuser.
The navigation system can now come up with an "eco route," providing
drivers a more energy-efficient course to their destination. No EPA
numbers have been released yet, but we’re not holding our breath for
any drastic improvements in range; we averaged 58 miles per charge
in our (short-term) 2011-model-year long-termer.