Nissan Ramps Up U.S. LEAF Production with Lower-Cost Model

Sections: Fuel Economy, Powertrain

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The 2013 Nissan LEAF in SL trim

Nissan said it is ramping up domestic production of the LEAF electric car at its Smyrna, TN assembly plant alongside the Altima, Maxima, Pathfinder and others. The company also said it will be launching a lower-priced “S” trim to complement the higher SV and SL trim packages, making the entry point for a LEAF more affordable than ever. Pictured is an SL with new-for-2013 alloy wheel design and new Metallic Slate exterior color. (Photo courtesy Nissan North America.)

Nissan announced this week that it is ramping up domestic production of the LEAF electric car and confirmed a cheaper LEAF trim would launch this year.

According to a Nissan press release, the 2013 model LEAF is now being built in Smyrna, TN, on the same production line that builds the Altima, Maxima, and Pathfinder, among others, for the North American market. The car’s batteries are built at an adjacent facility in Tennessee in what Nissan calls the “largest lithium-ion automotive battery plant in the U.S.” The company says it is the only automaker to produce its own EV batteries. The electric motors are produced in nearby Decherd, TN at a Nissan powertrain plant.

Nissan Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Brian Carolin said, “The Nissan LEAF has expanded beyond early adopters and is now appealing to a broad spectrum of consumers. Since we launched the LEAF in 2010, we’ve learned that people are very attracted to the advanced technology and other amenities, but they are also looking for a more affordable price point.”

To that end, Nissan said it will launch a more affordable trim package, the LEAF S, to slot into the lineup below the current SV and SL trims. The cheapest LEAF trim will make do with only four speakers instead of the six found in SV and SL trims, as well as steel wheels with plastic covers instead of the alloys found on the more expensive models. Other places costs were cut:

  • Headlights (halogen vs. LED)
  • Seating surfaces (the S gets plain cloth, the SV gets recycled cloth, and the SL gets leather)
  • LCD display on the infotainment system (4.3 inches on the S vs. 7 inches for the SV and SL)
  • iPhone connectivity (S does not get Pandora link while and SV and SL do)
  • Navigation (S doesn’t get it, SV and SL do)
  • The Nissan CARWINGS telematics system (unavailable on S, standard on SV and SL)
  • Cruise control (unavailable on S, standard on SV and SL)
  • Cargo cover (unavailable on S and SV, standard on SL)
  • Auto-dimming rearview mirror (unavailable on S, standard on SV and SL)
  • External monitor system (S gets a simple rearview monitor, SV and SL get Nissan’s Around View Monitor system)

Also notable for their absence in the S trim are two new features designed to improve efficiency and range: a new hybrid heat pump deigned to heat the interior better during cold weather while using less energy and a “B” drive mode that increases regenerative braking and reduces electric motor output to give the car its greatest range. You can see the full list of equipment and features broken down by trim level here.

One new feature available across all three trim levels will be most welcome for those concerned about range and long charging times: A 6.6 kW onboard charger reduces 220-volt charge times to just four hours, nearly half what it was on previous LEAF models. Another welcome change will be the car’s overall range and MPGe ratings from the EPA, which Nissan said it expects will improve over the 2012 model. Nissan did not, however, release the expected MPGe or total range numbers.

Another important number Nissan has not released yet: Pricing. A post on the Nissan LEAF Facebook page by a Nissan social media manager said that information would be released sometime between now and the car’s official on-sale date, currently scheduled for early February 2013.

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