Nissan is taking the chance to make the all-electric LEAF more European in the way it drives and the quality of the interior with the switch of production from Japan to the UK plant near Sunderland, says vice-president of electric vehicle product planning, Etienne Henry.
Crucially, there is also a 16-mile increase in the maximum range, to 125 miles. ‘This was a big opportunity to make changes, not all of which are visible,’ says Henry. ‘The LEAF is now more in tune with European driving conditions in its handling and comfort. We have revised some of the components and modified the aerodynamics, and the product offer is now wider with the choice of trim, materials and colours.
‘It is more of what some people would call a normal car. We have a darker interior and the option of leather seats, and enhancements include a trunk capacity which has gone up by 30 litres, a premium audio system from BOSE and 17-inch wheels. Altogether there are more than 100 changes.’
Nissan has just notched up its 50,000th LEAF sale, although volumes are still way below the 10% of the market that the company, along with Alliance partner Renault, is expecting to achieve by 2020.
‘We had hoped it (the growth in sales) would be quicker,” says Henry, “but I make the comparison with the consumer electronics industry. Every year there are improvements in technology. The volume is growing, and with more volume we get a quicker breakthrough in range, more affordable products, lower prices and improved performance.
‘It was difficult to forecast the economic crisis, but we remain committed to our fundamental strategy,” he went on. “We have to go through the number barriers, and some of them are not under our control. By 2020 we will have more than four EVs, and with an increase in the number of cars on the road customer confidence grows. It is like a snowball.’