When Nissan first launched its Leaf, it was meant to be the 'electric car for the masses.'
However, it still wasn't quite cheap enough and its limited range of just 200km between charges didn't help its case either.
So far sales have been disappointing, but Nissan is aiming to rectify that with an updated model, just announced in Japan, with an improved driving range and lower price.
FEAR OF BEING STRANDED
Nissan says changes to the Leaf were inspired by feedback from customers who voiced fears of their vehicle running out of its electric charge and stranding them.
Electric vehicles, including the Leaf, have not caught on as fast as some expected due to concerns over driving range, as well as the lack of a charging infrastructure and customer resistance to paying too high a price premium over similar sized petrol-powered cars.
"When technologies employed to cars are still in their first generation, it's not so easy for customers to try them out. We think that our new pricing and improvement in performance could be key to helping customers switch to electric vehicles," Nissan Leaf engineer Hidetoshi Kadota said.
The remodeled Leaf can run 228km when fully charged up from about 200km before. Nissan officials said the car shed some 80 kg through powertrain rearrangement and a lighter lithium-ion battery structure.
The driving range with use of air conditioner has also improved from the 120 km in the first-generation model, executives said, though they declined to give a specific figure.
MAY COME TO SA
In the new model, Nissan lowered the starting price of the Leaf in Japan to about 3.3-million yen (R360 800) from 3.8 million yen (R413 000) by introducing a lower spec level. With subsidies, that starting price drops to around 2.6 million yen (R282 500).
Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn has acknowledged that achieving the goal to double global Leaf sales this fiscal year to about 40 000 vehicles would be difficult. Nissan sold 11 720 Leaf cars in the six months to September.
The Leaf is not the only EV to struggle. In the United States, GM's Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid car has come short of expectations, while Fisker Automotive's Karma plug-in has experienced numerous problems, though both are hybrid cars that include a petrol engine as well.
Nissan is considering bringing the Leaf to South Africa in 2013 although pricing is far from being confirmed.