Wednesday September 6, 2017
By Richard Bosselman
POTENTIAL for the electric car that enjoys the highest rate of Kiwi ownership returning as a New Zealand-new product seems possible, going by the tone of comment from its distributor.
Nissan New Zealand provided a response in light of the new-generation LEAF being revealed by Japan today, ahead of its full public unveiling at next month’s Tokyo motor.
The Auckland-based distributor threw in the towel with the outgoing generation LEAF some years ago because of competition from importers.
However, comment from local boss John Manley suggests it could yet make a comeback in factory-supported, brand-new format – though he enforces this is far from settled.
“Nissan New Zealand shares in the global enthusiasm already evident for this exciting new product,” he told MotoringNetwork.
However, he added, it has “yet to commence discussions with our parent company regarding the availability of LEAF for our market.”
The new model is a marked improvement over the outgoing car which, despite range and performance limitations, has been a hit here.
But not as a New Zealand-new car. Nissan NZ’s attempts to establish the model were scuppered when the after-market trade seized on opportunity to source LEAF from Japan, and latterly out of the United Kingdom.
Those traders were able to source examples in low mileage used or parallel-sourced as-new format an on-sell them at prices that undercut the distributor’s positioning, even after several rounds of head office-sanctioned discounting.
That has created an unusual situation insofar that, while the model – the world’s most advanced city-centric battery-driven car until the BMW i3 hit the scene - has gone on to being the country’s favourite choice of EV. Yet just a handful at best of the more than 1200 units on our roads are New Zealand-new.
The timeline for the car’s availability suggests Nissan NZ need not have to make a quickfire determination about renewing representation. Nissan Australia – which when announcing a new managing director last week cited itself as being ultimately responsible for this country as well – has suggested that the model will not be available to this part of the world for at least another eight months.
Manley offered this thought: “…there has been a high level of anticipation for new generation LEAF and in order to meet demand there will be a staged release commencing in Japan to be followed by North America and then Europe.
“Other export markets, including New Zealand, will be scheduled for release after this.Accordingly we have yet to determine market positioning and pricing.”
If the car did return, would it become available from all Nissan dealerships or restricted to bespoke outlets, as the previous one was?
“LEAF is a specialty product, from a technology as opposed to exclusively EV perspective and accordingly we see it as critical for both a sales and aftersales front line staff to have specialist training in order to provide the best possible service to customers,” Manley said.
The next version offers more than a bigger and, arguably, far more attractive body styling. It also comes with more advanced driving technology that improves the range and performance. Nissan says the new model’s 40kWh lithium-ion battery can deliver a total possible range of 400km, up from the 250km available from the outgoing car’s most powerful like-sized 30kWh format.
Nissan also says the electric motor boasts an increase in power output to 110kW -- 38 percent more than the last-generation LEAF- and a 26 percent lift in torque, to 320Nm. It should therefore be faster, though no performance figures have been released yet.
The body design takes cues from a concept of two years ago. Nissan claims the design was created to mirror high-tech devices and is a reflection of the increased technology.
The design rework also includes a number of ergonomic improvements including the relocation of the vehicle’s charging port to enable easier operation. The car is a full five-seater and has an improved boot capacity, of 435 litres.
It also steps up with technology. Nissan Safety Shield and Nissan PROpilot are standard.
The first includes intelligent lane intervention, lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition, rear cross-traffic alert and a 360-degree camera.
The latter delivers adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality and lane-keeping assistance to offer a semi-autonomous drive mode. It also has what Nissan calls the E-pedal – while it retains an orthodox brake pedal, the accelerator now acts effectively as both a throttle and brake through its on/off operation. Nissan says E-pedal is designed to help drivers who regularly encounter heavy traffic during their commute and estimates that 90 percent of driving time will be spent solely using it.
The new car also has Nissan’s PROpilot Park, an automated parking technology that manages not only the steering effort as in most systems but will also take over acceleration, braking and transmission functions to navigate the car into a parking spot.
Strengthening the interaction between driver, car and charging network, NissanConnect enables intelligent charging of the LEAF. In vehicle-to-home systems, the LEAF is able to operate as a stationary power source, absorbing excess solar power during the day to then power the home in the evening. Owners can also power the LEAF with off-peak electricity at night time, and then use that electricity to power their home during the day.
Smartphone integration is improved with the addition of Apple CarPlay in vehicles equipped with navigation, while the LEAF smartphone app has been updated with a new interface which enables drivers to check the vehicle’s charge status, locate free charging bays, schedule optimum charging times and pre-heat or cool the car before setting off.
A number of charging options will be available to customers, with charge times varying from 16 hours on a 3kW charger to eight hours on a 6kW connection. Using a fast-charger, Nissan says the new LEAF can be charged to 80 percent of capacity in just 40 minutes.