The Nissan Leaf may be “hotter” next year, but not necessarily in terms of U.S. sales. The Yokohama, Japan-based automaker is betting that higher mileage will matter more to drivers than higher temperatures in the car interior.
To date, the Leaf has been unable to match the sales of the Chevrolet Volt among Americans because the GM car has a back-up gasoline engine that guarantees extra mileage and gives the driver greater confidence that he or she will reach a given destination–eliminating so-called range anxiety.
The Detroit News reports that Nissan sold just 984 Leafs in the United States this past September, for a total of 5,212 so far in 2012 versus 9,674 during model year 2011. But Chevrolet sold 2,851 Volts in September for 16,348 so far this year, up from 7,671 in all of 2011.
To date, the all-electric Leaf has been able to drive about 73 miles on one charge, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. . But with the Volt, a backup gasoline engine kicks in after the battery's range of about 35 miles is exhausted, so you can drive about 380 miles, according to General Motors (News - Alert).
However, Nissan announced changes to the Leaf this week that the company hopes will make it more attractive to anxious drivers. The new model can travel 228 kilometers (142 miles) on a single charge, up from 200 kilometers (124 miles)—as long as you don't use air conditioning—because of improvements such as streamlining the battery system and the vehicle's lighter weight, as reported by Associated Press (News - Alert). So, if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the Nissan Leaf.
The upgraded Nissan Motor Co. Leaf electric car also now comes in a cheaper model and tells drivers how much battery life is left. It sells for less than 2.5 million yen ($31,000) in Japan when stripped of fancy options and adding government subsidies — more affordable than the cheapest previous model at just below 3 million yen ($37,000).
Senior Vice President Masaaki Nishizawa told reporters that the Leaf eliminates the hassle of going to gas stations and allows eco-conscious drivers to hit the road with a cleaner conscience."People who try out the Leaf are moved," he said. "But they are worried about cruise range."
When the Leaf first went on sale, recharging facilities were available at 200 Nissan dealerships in Japan. The number of charging spots will increase to 700 —all still at Nissan retail locations— later this year, or 1,200 locations, when including other spots such as convenience stores.
Among other changes to the Leaf:
· Roomier luggage space after the recharging mechanism became smaller and was moved to the front.
· A dashboard display that tells how much battery charge is left.
· A navigation system that calculates the best energy-saving route to your destination.
· A smaller lighter recharging nozzle.
· Reduction of rare-earth use by 40 percent for the electric motor.
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Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli