TRAVERSE CITY CONFERENCE: Why Nissan views itself as the ‘wallflower leader’ of EVs

August 1, 2018 06:01 CET

TRAVERSE CITY  — Nissan helped pioneer vehicle battery electric technology when it released the Leaf compact hatchback in 2010, but the automaker admits the public would rather focus on flashier products from its competitors.

“We consider ourselves the leader, but I think we’re the wallflower leader of EV,” Chris Reed, vice president of platform and technology engineering at Nissan North America, told an audience at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars on Tuesday.

That’s because many of Nissan’s competitors, including as Tesla, General Motors and Toyota, are grabbing more headlines for vehicles such as the Model 3, Bolt and Prius. Nearly every automaker is investing heavily in the technology and plans to electrify most, if not all of its lineup, in the coming years.

But Nissan doesn’t plan to sit back and do nothing.

The second-generation Leaf debuted late last year with sleeker styling and a new battery that boosts the vehicle’s range on a full charge 40 percent to 150 miles.

It also received an updated edition of Nissan’s ProPilot Assist autonomous driving features, as well as new e-Pedal technology that turns one pedal into a combined accelerator and brake.

Despite the enhancements, Nissan lowered the starting price to around $30,000, before tax credits.

“We tried to find the right balance of range and price and package everything together,” Reed said. “How to make EVs that are accessible to all is a key for our company.”

Nissan now plans eight new EVs by 2023, including a Leaf for the 2019 model year that gets 200-plus miles, Reed said.

Rear Door Alert

Ahead of Reed’s speech at the seminars, Nissan said it would make its Rear Door Alert technology standard on eight vehicles for 2019, and it will be standard across Nissan’s lineup by 2020.

The tech is meant to ensure drivers don’t leave children or valuable objects in the back seat by alerting them with horn honks and center panel messages.

“The idea was inspired when I accidentally left a pan of lasagna in the back seat of my car overnight,” Marlene Mendoza, a mechanical engineer who invented the tech, said in a statement from the automaker. “The worst thing was the car smelled for days, but it made me ask myself, ‘What if I left something far more important back there?'”

You can reach Michael Martinez at mdmartinez@crain.com.

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