3 Reasons the 2019 Nissan Leaf Lost the Brand Its EV Lead
The first-generation Nissan Leaf holds an important place in EV history. As the only manufacturer delivering an all-electric car with close to 100 miles of range, in a price category much lower than the luxury segment occupied by other EVs, those first Leaf models provided an affordable alternative to Tesla during this early adopter period.
As a result, the Nissan Leaf was the first EV to achieve 400,000 global sales and held the title of best-selling electric vehicle in the United States until earlier this year. Unfortunately, it looks like the Japanese automaker has failed to make the most of its early lead in the EV market.
The 2019 Nissan Leaf has been passed by rivals with longer range, faster and more convenient charging, and features that many consider vital to any battery electric vehicle, but which Nissan opted to ignore.
Watch how the title of best-selling electric car has changed over the years with the latest EV sales figures in this video. (Please subscribe to Torque News Youtube Channel for daily automotive news and analysis).
Let’s examine three of the areas where many drivers, industry observers and current owners alike, feel that this popular EV brand dropped the ball with the 2019 Nissan Leaf.
1. Lack of Thermal Management in the Battery Pack
Battery degradation is always a lingering concern for early EV buyers, but Nissan has more of a checkered history in this area than other manufacturers. In fairness, this is primarily due to the company’s success in getting so many electric vehicles on the road before its competitors, but battery conservation remains an issue.
It was with incredulity, then, that many of us considering the second-generation Nissan Leaf heard that it wouldn’t come with thermal battery management.
Keeping the battery cool in summer and warm in winter is important. North American drivers face the reality of harsh winters in many areas and blazing hot summers in others. If you don’t have a heated or cooled garage, it’s not a pleasant thought to have your car’s battery pack sat outside to be frozen or baked by the elements with limited protection.
Fast charging is another issue related to thermal management, as the pack temperature needs to be regulated if you want to maintain the maximum charge rate without too much influence from outside temperatures.
Readers can simply search the term “Rapidgate” on Google or YouTube for various examples of this. Even if you don’t take many long trips in the 2019 Nissan Leaf, it would be nice to know you could rely on the car to reach its maximum charge rate without having to check the weather for every stop.
Direct rivals like the Chevy Bolt EV managed to include thermal battery management at a similar price point years before the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus emerged. The new Renault Zoe, recently announced for the European market and a less expensive option than the Leaf, also includes thermal management. Nissan’s decision to roll the dice on fan-cooling alone might save them some money, but it won’t win them too many fans among existing owners or prospective buyers.
Read John Goreham's informative story on Where You Can Buy a New Nissan Leaf for Around $20,000
2. Slow to Deliver the 62kWh 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
As I cross-shopped the (admittedly sparse) options for a long-range all-electric vehicle back in early 2017, the temptation to wait for news about the second-generation Nissan Leaf was strong. The 2017 Chevy Bolt EV started to show up in New England showrooms around February that year but it wasn’t until June 2017 that we eventually took the plunge on our Bolt.
I’m glad we didn’t wait.
Although the styling of the new Nissan Leaf looked good, the specs that were eventually announced later that year completely failed to meet our needs. Nissan opted for the easier option of rolling out the updated Leaf with their existing 40kWh battery pack, which kept range at around 151 miles. A larger pack was promised in the not-too-distant future, but that was too vague for our purchase plans. It also lost the 2019 Nissan Leaf any jump it might have had on the Tesla Model 3’s standard range options.
Watch 4 Tips on How to Increase Nissan Leaf Plus Range and Drive Efficiently and Subscribe to Torque News Youtube Channel for Daily Nissan and Automotive Analysis.
As we now know, the Model 3 has completely upended the middle-tier of EV purchases. With compelling 64kWh packs also available on models from Hyundai and Kia, and the CCS charging standard looking increasingly dominant in North America, Nissan’s 62kWh pack with CHAdeMO charging feels merely standard, rather than something special.
3. Sticking with the CHAdeMO Standard
I expect to take a bit of a beating on this point, but I’ll strap on my armor and take my lumps: CHAdeMO is no longer an advantage, at least in the North American market. In fact, it’s quickly becoming a reason to not buy a Nissan Leaf.
Other established manufacturers seem to acknowledge this idea. For example, Kia switched from CHAdeMO in earlier models of the Kia Soul EV, to CCS on its newest version of that vehicle and the 2019 Kia Niro EV. Even Tesla, which has its own popular and fast proprietary charging standard, has added CCS to the Model 3 in Europe.
This demonstrates the need to be flexible in different markets, but Nissan is all-in on CHAdeMO and shows no signs of adjusting to trends in the North American market.
At the time of writing, the only viable non-Tesla charging network across the United States is Electrify America. For all its teething problems, the Volkswagen-backed fast charging network has rapidly deployed a nationwide set of fast charging sites and expects to have just under 500 locations coast-to-coast before the end of 2019.
The trouble is, each of these sites will only have one CHAdeMO plug, all of which are limited to 50kW charging. By contrast, every site has at least 3 CCS stations available, with as many as 10 stations in some locations and with a power output of up to 350kW. That adds speed, redundancy, and future-proofing for drivers of EVs using CCS, while only adding limitations and availability anxiety for Nissan Leaf drivers.
The reasons behind this decision can be addressed to Electrify America, but the fact remains that charging on long trips isn’t getting significantly easier for CHAdeMO vehicles and it will continue to limit Nissan’s all-electric models as long as they use it.
In my next story, I cover a potential charging issue for Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV drivers on Electrify America.
Where Does the 2019 Nissan Leaf Stand in Today's EV Market?
On the bright side, the updated styling of the 2019 Nissan Leaf gives it a much more appealing look, there are new electric driving features like the ePedal and ProPilot Assist, and the interior remains more comfortable than its most direct competitor, the 2019 Chevy Bolt EV.
On the topic of comfort, read my article on 3 Ways the Bolt EV Already Feels Outdated (and What GM Can Do To Fix It)
Nissan also has some headroom left in its use of the US federal tax credit, with most estimates giving the company somewhere between 50-60,000 more sales in the United States before it triggers the phaseout. That fact alone will soon level out the price concern raised above, but it can’t address the underlying concerns over questionable battery management choices and specs that lag competing models that have already been released.
The brand does still have a groundswell of goodwill from existing owners and, of course, the 2019 Nissan Leaf doesn’t completely wash that away.
There will still be many happy owners who find the car a compelling option for their use case, such as those with a long daily commute who only ever charge at home and have another vehicle for road trips.
What the 2019 Nissan Leaf doesn’t do is build on the impressive lead that the company established over the first half of the decade. Whether or not it can regain that position will likely now depend on the new electric models Nissan brings to market, rather than the limited appeal of the second-generation Leaf.
Were you disappointed in the 2019 Nissan Leaf?
How do you think this second-generation of the popular EV stacks up against the latest competition?
Let us know in the comments below. See you in my next story where I am discussing this one charging issue that impacts Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV owners.