Can Nissan Hold On To Its EV Leadership Position With the New Leaf?

I watched the archived live stream this morning of the Nissan event in Tokyo. At first I was really impressed with the design, as it was exactly as the leaks had previously shown. But after thinking about it more after a few hours, it’s harder to get as excited by it as I expected to be. As the world leader in EV sales, I expected Nissan to really throw down the gauntlet to other manufacturers and set an extremely high bar for them to try and match.

I’m far from convinced that they’ve raised the bar enough and by not wowing us, they may have already effectively given up their market leadership. I don’t think the Model 3 base version will be that much more expensive than this car (especially once the bigger battery comes out), and with the huge advantages it has over the Leaf, it seems likely to me that Tesla could steal the throne away from Nissan. If they can ramp up production fast enough to meet demand that is.

On the lower price end of the market, I would expect Renault to do very well with the current Zoe. It is a very affordable car and will likely be the obvious choice for many buyers over the next year or two. It remains to be seen whether any competitors will emerge in the next year in this segment, but even if something else comes along, Renault will likely be unchallenged for at least the next 6 months if not significantly longer.

I do think the new Leaf will do well, but if it is confirmed that the car doesn’t get faster than 50kw charging and still has type 1 rather than type 2 slower charging for Europe, then those things could really hurt them. Especially if it is also the case in Europe, like in Japan that the 6.6 kw charging is an optional extra. In my opinion, 7kw type 2 charging ports should be mandatory on every single EV sold in Europe. Who wants to have a different home charger fitted just because the manufacturers can’t agree on a universal standard?

There are some other small things that I find particularly irksome about the Leaf. The analogue speedometer really seems out of place in a car like this and is something I would really not want to go back to. The rear folding seats don’t create a flat load bay and the Bose subwoofer is poorly positioned.

So in conclusion, once I took a step back from all the razzmatazz, I wasn’t wowed like I hoped I would be. Perhaps once the longer range battery becomes available and they allow 80kw or more ChaDeMo charging, I’ll be convinced. But price and what range the general public will accept will also play huge roles in the success of this car.

The fact that Nissan haven’t been able to match Renault’s top EV range is a problem because range is the biggest factor EV buyers think about. Even if the Leaf is a higher quality, bigger car, to many people, that is secondary to how far they can drive it without having to think about plugging it in.


Will a Non-Leaf EV Be Announced This Year?

I wrote earlier in the year about whether there would be any new EV models announced this year. It wasn’t looking good back then and it’s still not looking any better now. The new Leaf is announced tomorrow, which is very exciting. I’m hoping we see Bolt type range and 80kw charging possibility. Maybe up to current Supercharger speed of 120kw.

I hope it does come out this year because we can’t have a year with absolutely no other new EVs at all. The Model 3 is obviously in production now but we’ve known about it for so long, and I’m talking more about announcements.

The real test will come at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Generally though, we tend to find out about a lot of announcements beforehand these days, and we haven’t seen anything about a new EV from any manufacturers. But I really hope that we see something. Another motor show without a new manufacturer announcing its first EV would be a massive disappointment.

As far as EV launches in 2017. The Leaf should make it out before the end of the year around the world. It seems like they have the car ready to go as soon as it’s announced. The Model 3 is the other big new car this year and I’m excited about it, but personally, the most exciting thing for me is the affordable end of the market. Cars that are about half the cost of a Model 3. I want everyone to be able to afford an EV. I want to get rid of ICE cars as soon as possible.

So with that said, has 2017 been a good year when it comes to affordable EV annoucnements? No, it hasn’t. The last major update was the Renault Zoe with massively improved battery pack. The updated Zoe with 200 mile range came out at the tail end of 2016 and there isn’t a similarly sized and priced car to challenge it. The Zoe has been the only EV in the B Segment since it was launched in 2013. That to me is totally unacceptable. This is the segment that can bring EVs to everyone, and the manufacturers can’t be bothered to compete. They are simply more interested in bringing out petrol / diesel powered crossovers based on their existing B and C segment hatchbacks.

You could argue that manufacturers should at the very least be bringing out EV versions of small crossovers because those are the popular segments right now. But the thing is that EV drivers are generally pretty knowledgeable. They know that hatchbacks make more sense than SUVs in almost all driving scenarios. They know that aerodynamics play a role in range and that SUVs are never going to be as efficient as similarly sized saloons and hatchbacks.

But if you’re going to expand the market, you have to offer EVs in other segments. And if you’ve got the platforms already developed, why not make a crossover version for the more mainstream future EV buyers?

There are two issues here. EV manufacturers need to make different types of EVs. And non-EV manufacturers just need to make EVs! Someone make a Renault Zoe competitor so I have a decision to make when it comes time for me to give back my Zoe.


Why I lost my passion for motorcycles

I used to wax lyrical about how motorcycles were better than cars, more fun, more practical, easier to afford and so on. But the insistence of the motorcycle industry to focus on its traditional audience who love aftermarket exhausts and deafening noise, rather than innovate with electric bikes has lead me more towards 4 wheels, and those above statements are no longer as clear cut as they once were.

The car industry has always been ahead, but in recent times, the difference is astounding. Even in the traditional area of motor racing, manufacturers are flocking to Formula-e in their droves while in bike racing, electric is virtually nowhere to be found. This year, the only electric bike in competition from a manufacturer (Honda) was the Mugen TT Zero machine, except this time, they had no competition whatsoever. Dorna have announced an electric class in MotoGP from 2019 but it will be most likely hidden away, ranked below even Moto3, and maybe not fully televised. It’s an incredibly weak proposal when you consider what could be possible. For some odd reason, even Pike’s Peak lacked electric competitors this year despite the obvious advantage of running an electric powertrain at high altitude.

That’s the motorsport situation. The production situation is arguably only slightly better, but not by much. Only one of the major makes (BMW) are making electric motorcycles, and that is a maxi scooter. None of the recognisable brands, including all of the Japanese manufacturers, are making electric motorcycles in 2017. That is incredibly sad to me.

I’m sure there is some element of money involved here. The motorcycle industry is tiny compared to the car industry. The R&D costs are going to be hard to justify for businesses that really need to focus on short to medium term revenue. It’s harder for them to look too far into the future like the car industry can.

However, I don’t think money is the only reason. Motorcycling in general is far more closely associated with motorsport and noise in particular than the car industry is. Combine that with the fact that the male baby boomer generation have been the ones primarily supporting the industry in the last decade or so, and you have a cocktail that doesn’t create an environment for electric bikes to thrive. There are older male riders who are into tech and love riding their Zero bikes, but they are few and far between.

Yamaha and Honda are tentatively taking baby steps into production EVs with this scooter sharing service in Japan that they’re collaborating on. I’m sure they also have some exciting tech ready to go in the background, but for now, they don’t feel confident enough to release anything for fear of alienating their customer base that they rely on tremendously. We’ve seen the concepts from both manufacturers at motor shows, but nothing has made its way into production.

Will 2017 be the year they announce a production electric bike? Surely it has to be, but I’ve been predicting that and being let down each year for the last few years, so I can’t be sure. Vespa were the only bright spot in the motorcycle show season last year when they announced an electric model, but we’ve heard little of it since then, if anything.

Yamaha, Honda and the rest need to stop being afraid to change. At some point they’re going to have to present electric sports bikes to petrolhead fanboys at a press conference. But we’re reaching a point now where even die-hard litre bike fans and harley riders are starting to understand the extent to which the industry is changing. People are realizing that electric isn’t a threat, it’s awesome fun and that initial negative opinion, fueled by fear, is now turning more and more towards excitement. There is some risk in acting too soon, but there may be even more risk long term in waiting too long. The young people that they’re so desperate to go after probably won’t come unless they embrace EVs. And companies like Zero are positioned to take advantage if they aren’t challenged in the next couple of years.

If the big manufacturers can change the conversation with some great production machines, they can reignite my passion in bikes, and capture a potentially huge market worldwide that is untapped at present.


The Lack of New 2017 EVs

Is this the 2017 Nissan Leaf?

In the U.K. especially, it seems as though 2017 could be a baron year for brand new EV models coming onto the market. We know the Opel Ampera-e won’t be coming here as a right hand drive version (The less said about that, the better). We also know that the Tesla Model 3 will probably be released in the US by the end of the year (hopefully), but even if it is on time, a right hand drive version is probably going to come later. Only recently has the Model X become available here, and even that is in limited quantities.

It’s possible that some EVs could be announced at Geneva and released at the end of the year, like the Hyundai Ioniq was in 2016. I don’t have a lot of hope for that, but let’s wait and see.

Assuming nothing else gets announced, the only hope we have for a 2017 brand new EV seems to be the next Nissan Leaf. Carlos Ghosn has said to expect the announcement soon, but whether that means Geneva or somewhere else, we don’t know. One reason we should expect a new Leaf this year is due to them being at risk of losing their leadership status in the EV market. The current Leaf doesn’t match up well at all against the Bolt or Model 3, or even the smaller Renault Zoe in terms of range, tech or exterior style. As EV sales increase worldwide, they could lose their hard earned number 1 spot very quickly as the Bolt establishes itself in the market and word gets out about how accomplished of a car it is.

If the new Leaf looks like the IDS concept we’ve seen before, then it will be a major style improvement over the current model. I do like the current Leaf, but it grows on you over time. In order to sell EVs to an ever widening market, they have to have instant appeal. The period of time where EV buyers are techy people who know exactly what they want and have done the research is coming to an end. EVs have to compete with all other cars in order to attract buyers who aren’t necessarily just looking for an EV when they are considering a new car.

I really hope we see tons of new EVs announced and launched this year, but if not, I at least hope we see Carlos Ghosn unveil the most crucial one. Otherwise, it’ll be another year of putting bigger batteries in the same exact cars. I want more than that, and I want the manufacturers to put as much effort into making EVs as they do in developing autonomous cars. Because as far as I’m concerned, electrification is the first priority.