Model 3 shows demand for affordable, high range electric cars
With the introduction of the Model 3 in March and the receipt of deposits for over 250,000 in its first two days, Tesla has shown the world that there is, indeed, demand for an affordable, high range electric car. At least if its first name is Tesla. Since that time, the order tally has reached well over 300,000 units. Unfortunately, the Model 3 will not be available for at least a year and a half and that is only true for a select few. The question is, which will land first – Model 3 or LEAF?
The two main attractions of the Model 3 (beyond it being a Tesla) is that its starting MSRP (manufacturer suggested retail price) is $35,000 and with its 60 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery, it has a driving range of over 200 miles. I’ve said for some time now that these particular numbers hit the sweet spot for broader electric car uptake. Currently the Nissan LEAF has the highest range available in the $30,000 price range, with the 30 kWh versions offering a 107 mile EPA combined range. To double that range currently takes stepping up to the Tesla Model S 60 with a starting MSRP of $67,200, including destination fees. Tesla has none in inventory, but it could be custom ordered. The least expensive Tesla immediately available is a Model 70D (no longer in production) in the Rocky Mountain area for $86,350. Many potential EV owners do not want to spend that much. The Chevrolet Bolt will start production at the end of 2016 according to Chevrolet, so availability should be early 2017 at the latest. The Bolt also offers a 200+ mile range with its 60 kWh battery and its expected starting price is $37,500.
So where does that leave the LEAF? Just last week AutoblogGreen spoke with Nissan engineer Kazuo Yajima, Global Director of EV and HEV. Yajima confirmed the 60 kWh battery for the LEAF, just not when. The 2018 LEAF will likely be the next generation which will usher in this battery pack along with an all new body style. Nissan floated the IDS Concept in Tokyo last year with a 60 kWh battery and some futuristic looking lines. While we don’t expect the LEAF to be this dramatic looking, we can expect some similarities. Nissan has been moving their entire global design team to incorporate some key styling cues, notably the V-Motion grille, boomerang headlights and tail lights, and the floating-roof design. The current LEAF has no grille, so that element remains to be seen, but the others will likely be incorporated to some degree. The question remains – when will we see this new car? In my view, we will see this new LEAF after the Bolt hits the market, but prior to the first Model 3 hitting the ground. Tesla has said late next year for their Model 3, but they are notorious for missing deadlines. I suspect the 60 kWh LEAF will be in garages by the end of next year. With only 2,700 Model Xs delivered in its first six months or so, we think it could be awhile before Tesla can fulfill the majority of those Model 3 deposits.
As one who plunked down his $1k and also likes the Leaf as a car, let me describe why I think I will be waiting for the Model 3, even if the Leaf becomes available sooner. It has to do with the respective cultures of a mainline auto company like Nissan and that of Tesla.
With the Tesla, EV driving ease is the paramount purpose, and the Supercharger network is illustrative of that fact. While Nissan dealers do support charging for Leaf’s in most locations, the individual dealer experience varies by the market it serves. My father drove Nissans for years because he liked the dealer personally, but when I asked to take a test drive to show him what a Leaf could do, his salesman “buddy” was dismissive, and the car was not even fully charged, despite being the first customer to ask that day, and it was sitting right beside the charger. Each dealer is different, of course, but these attitudes are very common.
I want to travel with my EV and charging network availability is a strong incentive. Tesla needs that customer goodwill more than Nissan does today. If the Nissan culture changes fast enough, and options other than ChaDeMo fast charging become possible I may change my mind. But some of the more backward parts of this country probably will not allow for that.
Hi Paul – Welcome to Living LEAF. First, I agree with you that not all Nissan sales people are familiar with the LEAF, nor are they necessarily interested in talking about it. One likely reason that the car was not fully charged at your local dealership – it is not a good idea to charge any EV to 100 percent and let it sit. This practice can negatively impact lithium-ion battery life – Nissan, Tesla, GM, cell phone, laptop or any other. Since a test drive will not use the entire battery many dealers do not charge fully until sold.
Regarding Model 3 and the Supercharger network – Tesla has vacillated on availability. First it was to be standard, then available. They still have another year and a half to figure it out, but it may be standard on upper trim levels and optional on base models. Few people will want to travel cross-country in an EV – even one with a 200 mile range. So what is more important – at least for the moment – is a robust local or regional network of DC fast charge stations that will prove more practical for many. For instance, with a 200 mile range one could easily drive from San Diego to the Bay Area today, or almost anywhere along the Eastern Seaboard. My go-to site for charge station availability is plugshare.com. You can filter for type of fast charger for improved usefulness.
Depending upon where you are in the deposit queue, you may also consider leasing a Bolt or LEAF now. That way you can drive electric until Tesla builds your car. I know what Tesla has stated about ramping up production, but both the Model S and Model X are being produced at the rate of 1,000 per month or less. Tesla has already almost doubled production to accomplish that. They will need to more than double again to meet Model 3 demand in a timely manner. Even then that’s only 100,000 Model 3s per year. I suspect many beyond the first 100,000 or so deposits will be waiting for awhile. And in a perfect world, Nissan will partner with Tesla to be able to use Superchargers as well as CHAdeMO. But I’m not holding my breath.