CHIBA, Japan (AFP) – Japanese giant Nissan on Wednesday unveiled a new electric car with an extended range and semi-autonomous driving functions, as it seeks to battle off competitors in a sector it once pioneered.
The second-generation Nissan Leaf has a potential range of 400 kilometres (250 miles) between charges, compared with 250 kilometres for its previous version.
It also boasts semi-autonomous driving capabilities such as keeping the vehicle automatically in one lane on the motorway or parking without human intervention.
Faced with tighter global environmental regulations, most carmakers are investing heavily in the electric-car sector, sparking a ferocious race to create the next green vehicle.
Nissan was an innovator in the sector seven years ago when it unveiled its first Leaf — which has sold 280,000 units — but has since had to contend with fierce competition from General Motors and Tesla among others.
“The second (Leaf) will be one of our core products — it is not a niche anymore,” Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa told a news briefing for the new car on Wednesday.
Saikawa defended the vehicle’s potential range, which fell short of expectations and puts it behind Tesla’s Model 3. “(The range) is more than enough for Japan and most European countries,” he said.
“With the first generation Leaf, the range was not enough and ‘range anxiety’ became a big issue for a lot of consumers,” Christopher Richter, an auto analyst at brokerage CLSA in Tokyo, told AFP.
“Now, lithium-ion batteries have become much cheaper, so that allows automakers to offer double the range for about the same price.
“So, I would expect the sales to be larger for this new generation of Leaf. However, Nissan will face more competition as there are other quite similar new vehicles on the market,” he added. The new car will be available next month in Japan, followed by the United States and Canada in January 2018.
The price tag in Japan will be 3.15 million yen (around $29,000).