In 2010, Nissan launched the first globally-marketed electric vehicle in history. Known as the Leaf, the model offered a paltry 73 miles between charges when it was introduced. But deserves loads of credit for being a useful, friendly runabout that avoided many of the strange design choices other manufacturers leveraged to set their EVs apart. Reviewers frequently praised the Nissan Leaf as a great second car for running errands, noting that it was both comfortable and had enough space to swallow up most items you’d want to snag on a trip into town.
But it arguably came too soon. The EV arrived shortly before the Toyota Prius was to enjoy record-breaking sales and was likely targeting the same kind of customers. Being first also meant that Nissan was running with outdated battery technologies it had to develop itself by the time the rest of the industry joined the all-electric party. The automaker did what it could, and even gradually boosted the Leaf’s range to a more-useful 212 miles with the aid of an optional 60 kWh battery pack. However, it was frequently viewed as lagging behind in terms of technology and is reportedly on deck for discontinuation.
It’s a little tragic to see it go, especially considering Nissan was one of the only automakers putting its money where its mouth was in the early days of electrification. Governments and environmentalists had been clamoring for EVs since the late 1990s (and before), claiming they would help save the world from certain doom. But there weren’t a lot of takers when the Leaf hit the global market. In the United States, Nissan moved just 9,674 examples in 2011 and would find it impossible to break 20,000 deliveries until 2013. Unfortunately, the model peaked early in 2014, seeing 30,200 sales at its all-time high.
Since then, the vehicle has teetered between 18,000 and 7,000 units annually despite seeing meaningful improvements nearly every single year. For the sake of comparison, Toyota’s Prius Hybrid could count on at least 100,000 deliveries in the U.S. between 2005 and 2017, while enjoying a four-year stretch in the middle where it averaged over 200,000 units per year.
We can blame Toyota for having already cornered the eco market or Tesla for introducing the Model S roughly a year after Nissan put the Leaf on sale. But the big issue seems to be that the industry wasn’t quite ready to field mainstream EVs at an affordable price. As the electric car market matured, most of the action was focused on luxury brands. While plenty of those have been colossal flops, they offered powertrains and charging capabilities that the Leaf couldn’t really compete with. This made it a niche vehicle for people who don’t need to cover a lot of ground, like EVs for something other than the image, and can manage the brunt of their charging needs at home. In fact, the Leaf’s charging capabilities are still seen as lacking — as its CHAdeMO connectors aren’t compatible with some of the fast-charging stations that have cropped up in recent years (especially in the West).
Worse still is that when direct competition finally did arrive, more than a few Leaf rivals came with ranges and charging capabilities that made the comfortable and cargo-friendly Nissan less appetizing. While some of these also came with spicier pricing (e.g. Tesla Model 3), others managed to do so without breaking the bank (e.g. Chevrolet Bolt).
According to Automotive News, Nissan is done trying to sell the Leaf and will soon be ending production. It’s long been assumed that the model would never recoup the development expenses required to build it. But the manufacturer isn’t pulling the plug on EVs, it’s viewing the Leaf as an educational endeavor and will only be doubling down on electrification moving forward.
But even as Nissan closes the book on its first plunge into mass-market electrification, the company is gearing up for a second act. The Japanese automaker is making a nearly $18 billion bet on electrification, delivering 15 battery-electric models globally by 2030.
The new campaign undoubtedly builds on the lessons learned from the Leaf.
“With EVs projected to be 40 percent of Nissan’s U.S. sales volume by 2030, we will offer a lineup of electric vehicles in a variety of segments to meet the growing demands of American customers,” [Nissan spokesman Brian Brockman] said.
The first of those vehicles — the Ariya compact crossover — arrives stateside in the fall.
Nissan could replace the Leaf with a coupelike crossover, which the automaker teased last year in a sporty concept called the Chill-Out. It uses Nissan’s CMF-EV platform and features a dual-motor all-wheel-drive system called e-4orce.
The outlet goes on to note that Nissan leadership (especially the defamed Carlos Ghosn) had originally envisioned the Leaf as a way to beat the Toyota Prius at its own game. By jumping straight to all-electric propulsion, the company assumed it would gain a massive lead over the rest of the industry. Obviously, that’s not how things played out and many important lessons have been learned since then. Nissan has been cultivating relationships with battery suppliers, rather than continuing to develop its own, and will be working on ways to spread investment spending around in a way that benefits the entire lineup.
A formal announcement about the Leaf’s discontinuation is expected to manifest within the next few weeks. However, Nissan has not confirmed anything about the model’s future at this juncture.
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