LAS VEGAS – Nissan at CES 2020 took the wraps off a successor, or more likely big brother, to the best-selling, now recently slow-selling Nissan Leaf EV. It’s called the Nissan Ariya Concept. It gets up to 300 miles of range and is a crossover/hatchback where the Leaf is a sedan. Think of the Ariya (pronounced like the musical term) as being a more sculpted, more current Nissan Rogue, and electrified.
Nissan will use the second generation of its ProPilot Assist self-driving technology, which provides Level 3 hands-off driving for conditional automation. It’s roughly equivalent to Cadillac Super Cruise. We expect prices will start around $40,000 for the Ariya, assuming that’s its actual name. The car is far enough along that even with the “concept” suffix on the name, this is a good idea of what it should look like.
Nissan says the Ariya is four inches shorter than the Rogue (not Rogue Sport) and three inches wider, making it 181 inches long and 75 inches wide. That places it within the realm of compact rather than subcompact vehicles. The feds classify vehicles by interior volume. But generally, a compact SUV is considered to be 180-190 inches long, while a subcompact is 160-170 inches. The current Leaf is 176 inches long and 71 inches wide.
Nissan suggests range would be about 300 miles. The second-generation Nissan Leaf is rated at 226 miles. There should be three models, S, SV, and SL, with prices of about $40,000 to $45,000. Nissan suggests 0-60 mph acceleration could be under six seconds.
Where the Leaf drives the front wheels only, the Ariya will offer all-wheel drive, with motors both front and rear. Nissan calls technology e-4orce (pronounced “e-force”). It’s not clear if all Ariyas get e-Force or if it’s a step-up option. Since so many EVs are sold in California, AWD may not be necessary on all US vehicles. According to Takao Asami, Nissan’s senior vice president of research and advanced engineering:
The e-4ORCE twin-motor all-wheel control technology offers precise handling and stability, which gives drivers greater confidence and even more excitement than ever before. This technology enables excellent cornering performance and traction on slippery surfaces and comfortable ride for all passengers.
Nissan also says the modulated use of regenerative braking will minimize pitch and dive.
Since the Ariya plays closer to the Tesla Model 3, with Tesla’s generally well-regarded AutoPilot system, ProPilot 2.0 should make the Nissan entry more competitive. ProPilot 2.0 is described as Level 3 autonomy, meaning: a) self-driving b) on some roads (typically interstates and other limited-access roads), but c) you have to keep your eyes on the road (they’ll be tracked by a monitor), and most importantly d) you’ll need to take over control when you, say, exit the highway but also if the car cannot cope with a complex driving situation. This is a challenge, and not just for Nissan. Being hands-off might invite inattention, but the handoff might come on short notice. It’s still a gray area of how much notice the car can give the driver where the driving situation changes suddenly.
ProPilot 2.0 features would include:
- Automated emergency braking and pedestrian detection
- Lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and lane centering assist
- Adaptive cruise control with stop and go
Help Arrives for the Beleaguered Leaf
Among EVs, the Nissan Leaf is a best-seller, with about a half-million sales worldwide since arriving in late 2010 as a 2011 model. US sales peaked in 2014 at 30,200, fell for two years, recovered with the arrival of the second-generation Leaf in 2018, and then fell 16 percent in 2019. Over the Leaf’s nine-and-a-fraction years in the US, it has sold 141,907 vehicles, or about 16,000 a year.
Against the Leaf’s 12,365 calendar-year-2019 sales, Inside EVs estimated the Tesla Model 3 sold 47,275 units, about 4x what the Leaf sold, and much smaller numbers for the Model X SUV (5,500 estimated) and Model S (3,750). Thus Nissan’s need and desire for a somewhat bigger vehicle than the Leaf and one with that magic 300-mile range. No matter how much automakers say range anxiety is overrated, buyers say they want the range to be equivalent to what you get from a tank of gasoline, meaning 300 miles or more.
It’s not clear if the Ariya replaces the Leaf or slots one level above. The two are not really comparable in size or performance. But with Leaf sales down into the low teens, it’s unclear if the Leaf as of 2020 is running out of gas.
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