European LEAF sees changes ahead

by Ernie Hernandez on April 12, 2012

Blue LEAF driving on bridge

Redesign and lower price in its future

According to Automotive News Europe, Nissan may redesign the LEAF and lower its price once production begins in Sunderland, England.

In an interview with Colin Lawther, Nissan’s Vice President of Engineering in Europe, Lawther said “We’ll fine tune the car for the European customer from a design point of view.” Notice the choice of language – “We’ll fine tune the car” – translation – don’t look for any difference in major body panels. Look for front and rear fascia differences with perhaps different rocker panel treatment. Lawther, showing his engineering roots rather than a background in sales and marketing, said that producing the car in Europe would take about a third out of the cost of the car. Likely that statement had some of the bean counters seeing red. No price for the U.K. built car has yet been announced. Look for consumers to expect the price to come in near two thirds of its current 25,990 pounds (after the 5,000 pound government grant) based on that announcement.

With production moving to Sunderland, Nissan expects well over 90 percent of the content to be European content, accounting for some of that cost reduction. Initially the electric motor will be sourced from Oppama, Japan but that too may be built in Sunderland eventually. The batteries will also be produced at the Sunderland plant. Based on this information, it may be reasonable to assume that the production of the LEAF in Smyrna, Tennessee later this year will result in a lower production cost as well. One other interesting point noted in the article was that the range is expected to be increased in the Sunderland sourced vehicles. No mention was made of how much increase is expected, nor its expected cost impact. Perhaps Nissan’s plan is to use some of that cost reduction to build a larger battery pack – a likely scenario, and build in a larger 6.6 kilowatt on-board charger versus its current 3.3 kilowatt design. If these improvements could be made, while offering even a slight price improvement, we see that as an overall positive for the LEAF.

Another advantage of local production is reduced lead time for the consumer by as much as six to eight weeks. Vehicles built in Sunderland will be shipped to European and U.K. markets only. Look for Sunderland production to begin early next year. When it does, Nissan will be producing the LEAF in three plants – Oppama, Smyrna, and Sunderland – each serving their local markets.

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