Will Nissan PH plug us in?

Global electric vehicle race charges up


The Leaf boasts of a 240-km range, single-lane autonomous driving, self-parking capability, and an innovative e-pedal.

The Nissan Leaf is named so simply that the public often overlooks the complexity of its history.

But the Pinoy motorist can’t be blamed for oversimplifying the Leaf as “just another car propelled by electricity.” After all, how would we fully understand a vehicle that’s not here to be experienced and studied more closely?

The first-generation Leaf rolled out in 2010, and eventually became the world’s best-selling electric vehicle (EV), quietly finding a home in 300,000 garages by 2016.

And now, as the autumn season descends upon the Land of the Rising Sun, a new Leaf is about to be unveiled on Oct. 2, to be delivered in January to eager buyers in the United States, Canada, Europe, and over 60 markets worldwide.

In the Philippines? Well, as of presstime, no definite word yet from Nissan Philippines Inc. (NPI) if our neck of the woods will be able to “volt in” with other Leaf owners around the world.

At least, though, members of the Philippine media did get to witness the world premiere of the next-generation Leaf last Sept. 6.

The world premiere at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture showcased a new-look Leaf with an extended range of 150 miles, or 240 kilometers if one refers to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ratings.

For Japan’s JC08 cycle, it’s 400 km, and for the New European Driving Cycle, or NEDC, 380 km—all still unofficial.

The longer range is possible due to its lithium-ion battery’s 40-kwh capacity. Green Car Reports analyzed that this puts the new Leaf in a category of its own, a “mid-range EV” in the 130- to 200-miler category, up from the 60-to-125-miler crowd, but lower than the Chevy Bolt EV and the Tesla.

The next-gen Leaf also sports a number of high-tech features, such as the ProPilot single-lane autonomous driving; the e-pedal that lets drivers start, accelerate, decelerate and stop by increasing or decreasing the pressure applied to just one pedal, the accelerator; and the ProPilot Park, in which the car takes control of steering, acceleration, braking, shift changing and the parking brake to autonomously park itself.

The new Leaf resembles a small Nissan hatchback (Green Car Reports says it’s “no longer weird-looking”) but the giveaway to its all-electric powertrain is its mushroom-shaped drive selector.

The 240-km range does lessen drivers’ anxiety, which has always been the most obvious concern among EV owners and would-be buyers.

At the world premiere, Nissan engineers highlighted the following:

The focal point of the Nissan Intelligent Power in the new Leaf would be the e-powertrain, which offers improved energy efficiency, and increased torque and power output.

The new e-powertrain has a power output of 110 kW, 38 percent more than the previous-generation Leaf.

Torque has been increased 26 percent to 320 Nm, resulting in improved acceleration. The car’s new lithium-ion battery pack delivers an estimated range of 400 km by Japan standards.

Filipino drivers can someday drive zero emission electric vehicles like this Leaf, if only legislators would open their eyes to EV benefits.

The new battery design adds energy-storage capacity without increasing the size.

The battery pack occupies the same dimensions as that of the previous-generation Leaf, but the individual cell structure of the laminated lithium-ion battery cells have been improved, representing a 67-percent increase in energy density versus the 2010 model.

Another key engineering improvement for the Li-ion battery pack is the use of enhanced electrode materials with revised chemistry, resulting in higher power density while contributing to greater battery durability from successive charges and discharges.

The Leaf brand, popular as it may be, is in for some stiff global challenges, especially with the emerging popularity of relative newbie, Tesla Model 3, and the Chevrolet Bolt of fellow automotive giant, General Motors.

This is probably why, despite improvements on the previous model of up to 60 percent, the next-gen Leaf will come with the same price tag as the previous generation.

The price is an obvious come-on. But what’s not readily seen can also make or break the deal.

The result of a recent survey conducted by Norman Hajjar, managing director of PlugInsights, showed that among veteran EV owners whose leases were about to expire and who were planning to sell their EVs, the driver satisfaction for the Tesla Model S ran in the 94 to 99-percent range.

The Chevrolet Volt (not the Bolt) ranked between 79 and 85 percent, while the Nissan Leaf ranked third, between 49.8 percent and 66.8 percent.

According to Hajjar, while the Leaf appeared to be falling in approval, its satisfaction rating still ranked higher than those for most conventional cars, including the highly rated Lexus.

On Aug. 30, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that “the Leaf has been losing EV cachet ever since longer-range alternatives came to market.”

But that was before the next-gen Leaf and its nifty new “tricks” came about.

Besides, if you ask Nissan, the global market for EVs can grow at a potentially exponential scale, with lots of real estate for lightning to strike.

The R’nessa EV—sold in Japan and the US—is the evolved Li-ion EV that led to the 2010 Nissan Leaf.

Daniele Schillaci, EVP of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., Global Marketing and Sales, Zero Emission Vehicle and Battery Business, MC Japan/A&O (Japan, Asia, Oceania Business), during an interview with the motoring media at Nissan Global Headquarters on Sept. 7, showed he was less concerned with rivalries than with the public acceptance of EVs—regardless of brand—in the global market.

“What will trigger an acceleration of the EV market is the day that the cost of the EV technology would be the same as (that of) internal combustion engines.”

Schillaci said that he was looking forward to the day when “the customer would select the EV because it is much more fun to drive, and perhaps much more high-tech.

“The tipping point, not only with Nissan but all the other automakers, will come around 2025. But, before this, we have already seen in a market like China a sharp acceleration in the EV market. We think, at Nissan, with the new Leaf, with all the things that will come, we are going to strengthen our leadership on the EV market,” Schillaci predicted.

He added that the new Leaf can be considered “the most advanced EV in the world, because it is the only one that embraces all technologies in one product, with the same price as its predecessor.”

He explained that electrification will be just one of the pillars of the intelligent mobility development pushed by Nissan.

Autonomous driving and connectivity are the other pillars meant for owners’ peace of mind, resulting to confident driving.

For the Philippine market to be ready for the Leaf and other EVs, Schillaci said: “Now is probably the right time to make a deep assessment on how to make an EV strategy in the Philippines. But where there’s new technology, incentives help to accelerate the acceptance of that technology. We have seen it in several countries in Europe, and in the United States. I clearly believe that incentives will help.”

The Cube, an EV test car, and its uniquely designed thunder-shaped slots on its front grille.

Last week, Inquirer Motoring quoted Rommel Juan, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines, as saying that the Philippines is “in a good position now that the new excise tax law [is poised to] exempt EVs, and that charging infrastructure groups are aggressively rolling out. The 1st Asean Electric Vehicle Summit [held in Manila last June 29 and 30] was an indication that the formal automotive players are now convinced that the Philippines is ready.”

Juan admitted, during the June 29 press conference, that there has been tremendous pressure for the Philippines to step up the EV/hybrid industry, as neighboring Asean countries have achieved substantial headway in terms of government subsidies, incentives, ownership schemes, infrastructure support, and sales for EVs and hybrids.

Nissan Philippines’ president and managing director Ramesh Narasimhan, meanwhile, disclosed that the company is mulling over the possibility of bringing in the e-powered Note and Leaf.

But our own tipping point may have to come from the hands of our legislators and politicians, many of whom still haven’t opened their eyes to the many pros of EVs.

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