Self-driving and 200 mile plus range!
Carlos Ghosn at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) finally announced that the new Nissan LEAF will be coming soon. In automotive parlance that means sometime this year, which is what I’ve been saying all along, as a 2018 model. Look for it late summer at the earliest, more likely this fall. One thing that I didn’t anticipate is the inclusion of ProPILOT autonomous technology. This self-driving technology was introduced in Japan last year on the Serena minivan and is designed to provide single lane driving assistance. In other words, when you’re commuting on the freeway, it will keep you in your lane, speed up and slow down as appropriate, stop if the vehicle in front of you stops, take off when that vehicle resumes, and that’s about it. It won’t change lanes for you, nor will it drive you around town while you read your emails and texts on your phone. We’ll have to wait until 2020 or beyond for that level of autonomy. Here’s a video of this ProPILOT system.
Nissan has a plan to incorporate more self-driving technology into the cars we drive for the next several years, progressing from single lane management to total vehicle control. Another new technology that was revealed at the CES was Seamless Autonomous Mobility, which Nissan also refers to as SAM.
As the world transitions to vehicles that can drive themselves, there are always those irregular circumstances that can not only trip up self-driving cars, but cars with real humans behind the wheel. A sinkhole opening up with traffic being re-routed would be one such example. Nissan’s response to this is to have humans interact with the vehicle as these situations arise. The vehicle will send data to be viewed by SAM controllers who will then return instructions to the vehicle after reviewing the data. While this may seem to be a cumbersome way to manage a vehicle, Nissan presents their view in the following video.
Prior to Ghosn’s keynote speech Takeo Asami, Nissan’s Senior V.P. of Research and Development stated that the new LEAF would have a range of more than 200 miles. This is the news that all current LEAF owners have been waiting to hear, but Nissan had been reluctant to confirm until now. Having worked in the automotive industry for over 25 years, I can attest to the fact that every manufacturer is all about selling cars now – today. As soon as Nissan says that the next LEAF will go 200 miles or more, there are those that might be considering a LEAF that will say “I’ll just wait until that one comes out.” Not what Nissan – or any carmaker – wants to hear. But with the recently released 238 mile Chevy Bolt and the eventual launch of the Tesla Model 3, Nissan apparently felt that it was time to confirm this eventuality. Really, it’s not been a closely held secret for anyone that’s been paying attention, but there was no official confirmation – until now. Look for 30 kWh 2017 LEAF sales to start slowing as more Bolts become available, and the launch date of the next generation LEAF nears. What that next LEAF will look like is open to speculation, so let me provide you with mine.
I have already presented several articles about Nissan’s current styling themes. A few years back Nissan made a move to globalize their design language with some brand characteristics so that anyone, anywhere in the world could see a Nissan and recognize it as such. These include features such as boomerang-shaped headlights and taillights (first implemented on the 370Z seen below), floating roof as seen now on the Maxima and Murano, and the V-Motion front end as represented on all recently designed Nissans. Here are some examples of those themes.
Now that we’ve taken a look at what some of Nissan’s current design themes look like in production vehicles, how might they play out in the next gen LEAF? I’ve covered many of Nissan’s recent global concepts in the past, but here I put them in one place. These images will give you a general idea of the direction that the next LEAF might go. First up is the Nissan SWAY.
Introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 2015 the SWAY integrates much of Nissan’s design language in a subcompact hatch. Of all of the concepts presented here, in my view this might be the closest to representing the next LEAF. Others worth noting though include the IDS concept.
The IDS is a much more futuristic looking EV with some very aggressive aero features, such as the sharply contoured sides of the front bumper cover. Something worth noting though, is that BMW i3 and Toyota Prius have already incorporated somewhat less aggressive variations of this theme with the Prius looking remarkably similar.
Still other vehicles could flavor the next electric Nissan hatch as well. Here’s a look at the Kicks, which was a concept that made it into production for the Brazilian market, and will expand to others as well. This is less likely to influence the LEAF I feel as it has stronger crossover looks.
So there is a look at what Nissan has to say about the next gen LEAF due to come out later this year, and my speculation as to what that LEAF might look like. Meantime, Chevy will be the sole provider of an affordable 200 mile plus electric car, and that fact likely has many Nissan executives gnashing their teeth at night as every Bolt sold is one less LEAF out the door. Which design idea represented above would you like to see in the next Nissan LEAF?