Though the Nissan LEAF has been an admirable cornerstone of the budding electric vehicle industry, it doesn’t generate excitement or emotion the way that the Infiniti LE concept did at the 2012 New York Auto Show.
The stunning all-electric sedan was displayed with the same platform and 24-kWh battery as the LEAF, but with a striking exterior, more powerful electric motor, and wireless charging capability. It was supposed to launch around this time as a 2015 model year.
And then reality set in
It was a combination of Infiniti’s leadership and the LE’s inherent flaws that temporarily put it on the shelf. Former Infiniti CEO Johan de Nysschen, a known EV skeptic who once allegedly called buyers of the Chevrolet Volt “idiots,” was hired in 2012 and put the LE on indefinite hold a year later in mid-2013.
His decision had some basis in practical automotive leadership, however. The LE was not expected to sell in high volumes, and de Nysschen felt the company needed to prioritize other projects to sell more vehicles and re-establish itself in a competitive luxury sector.
He also pointed out that the battery technology as presented at the NY Auto Show would be outdated by the time the vehicle would have launched in 2014.
In that, de Nysschen had a point. The LE could not have been sold with the current Nissan LEAF battery pack – even though it would be a compact vehicle riding on the same platform, it almost certainly would have weighed more and have achieved less than 80 miles of range.
Though BMW and its i3 would argue, Infiniti clearly felt this number would have been unacceptable to sell in respectable volumes in the compact luxury segment. The company wanted to hold back with the LE until battery technology improved significantly to allow greater driving range.
Back on the EV industry’s radar
Now, Automotive News reports as part of a vehicle-by-vehicle Infiniti product plan that the LE is back on course for 2017-2018. It will still share basic architecture with the LEAF but of course will feature a more attractive exterior design and well-appointed interior.
The news confirms statements made in May by Andy Palmer, Nissan’s executive VP and a man who has come to be known as a huge EV advocate, concerning the future electric vehicle plans of Nissan and Infiniti.
It may not be a coincidence that de Nysschen left Infiniti in early July while Palmer took over as the company's boss on an interim basis.
The important thing is that the Infiniti LE may yet see production, most likely in 2017 following the introduction of the next-generation Nissan LEAF. The expected timetable would place the LE into the hands of customers around the same time the Tesla Model III starts rolling off the line in Fremont, CA.
On a very related note, the Automotive News report came with the anticipated tidbit that the LE will feature “next-generation battery range” well beyond the current standard of sub-100 miles.
Not only will the LE feature a larger capacity pack than the current 24-kWh LEAF, it will also be the recipient of Nissan’s next generation of battery chemistry that Palmer has called “game-changing technology” for its improved energy density.
Expect close to 150 miles of range out of the LE when it arrives, which won’t quite be on the level of the Tesla Model III but will be a welcome addition to the nation’s electric vehicle fleet.