Such a range figure would make the Leaf a much more mainstream option and reduce, if not eradicate, range anxiety for those who have so far been put off by the limited range of electric cars.
Nissan heavily previewed the next Leaf with the IDS concept at the Tokyo motor show last November. That concept car featured a 60kWh battery pack, which was said to offer a range of between 310 and 340 miles.
Nissan’s Gareth Dunsmore, director of the company’s zero-emission business unit, revealed that such a range should be viable for production in 2018, provided the larger battery meets Nissan’s price and durability targets.
He didn’t refer directly to the Leaf, but with the replacement due in 2018, it seems likely that 340 miles could be the headline figure for the range-topping model in the next-generation Leaf line-up.
The recently revised current Leaf is now offered with a larger, 30kWh lithium ion battery pack, which is good for a claimed 155-mile range, up from the 124 miles of the standard 24kWh battery.
This strategy is set to continue with the next-gen Leaf, with Nissan set to offer several different batteries to give buyers the option of different ranges — and with an increased price to match.
It’s a strategy similar to that of Tesla. Offering larger battery packs allows Nissan to give the Leaf a longer range even though there hasn’t been a significant chemical or technological breakthrough in battery technology, which is understood to still be a decade or so away.
While the Leaf has a higher list price versus its more conventional rivals, the majority of models are bought on three-year lease deals. This is where Nissan is able to compete with petrol and diesel models, with the Leaf costing around £200-£250 per month at present. Each higher-capacity battery pack would attract a premium on the lease price.
“We have two battery options now, and will grow options, making it more accessible with a longer range and a price to match,” said Dunsmore.
Nissan is seeing interest in the current Leaf increase all the time, and in March this year 6% of its total European sales were EVs. Dunsmore hopes that figure will rise to 20% by 2020, something the 2018 Leaf, with its greater range, should help to achieve.
Nissan does not yet have a plug-in hybrid model in its range, despite it being a technology many other manufacturers are adopting in order to reduce their fleet CO2 emissions. Dunsmore believes plug-ins to be a compromise.
He said: “When you are driving a plug-in, you have an electric motor and an internal combustion engine. You use the engine most of the time and it makes emissions worse. I see their relevance, but there is a compromise. I’m glad we took the step and built up a leadership in electric vehicles.”
Dunsmore also welcomes competition from other brands, as it helps to boost consumer acceptance of EVs.
“Nissan showed bravery 10 years ago to invest $4 billion (£2.77bn) in electric vehicles, and all that bravery has built up expertise that’s unparalleled,” he said. “Other brands are now fellow pioneers. EVs are a real and viable alternative, and we’re now heading towards tangible benefits in cities and for the climate.
“We’ve been the leader for five years. Sales and volume is important for business, but driving Nissan as experts in the tech is important, too.”
He also said Tesla had helped Nissan’s cause by increasing the visibility of electric technology. “Having Tesla, the visibility for the technology is a massive benefit,” he said. “Go to Google, type in ‘EV’ and we’re there. We have expertise in the tech and in making it accessible. We will continue to do that, and the more people that catch up the more visibility there is for us.”