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Exclusive: Next Nissan Leaf is go for Aus

Green machine: The current-generation Nissan Leaf went on sale in 2013 and since then more than 600 have found homes across Australia.

Nissan Aus confirms next-gen Leaf but CEO says full EV adoption '10 years away'

Nissan logo14 Apr 2016

NISSAN has confirmed that the yet-to-be-revealed next-generation Leaf will come to Australia, despite low take-up of fully electric vehicles and lack of support from the federal government.

The Japanese car-maker was one of the first mainstream brands to introduce a fully electric vehicle to the Australian market in June 2012 – it was beaten to market by the now discontinued Mitsubishi i-MiEV by 10 months – and since its launch has found 614 homes, making it the best-selling full EV in Australia.

Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery said the company was committed to the Leaf, despite speculation that production of the current model had ceased in Japan due to slowing global sales.

“There is a model change in that car in the next 18 months to two years,” he told GoAuto in an exclusive interview. “So because of the nature of that car obviously there will be a point in time when they stop making the current car and start making the new car, but at this point in time it is ongoing.

“Our commitment to Leaf with our dealers not only is to make sure we get access to the new car when it does arrive, the next-generation car – which there is still no confirmation on timing – so that we are seen as a car company in Australia that has sustained, over a long time, commitment to electric vehicles.”

Little is known about the next-generation Leaf, although GoAuto understands that it will take design cues as well as some of the technology previewed in the futuristic IDS concept that made its debut at last year's Tokyo motor show.

The IDS also showcased Nissan's advances in self-driving technology by using using advanced information processing systems in conjunction with existing technologies such as radar cruise control and lane-departure control.

Few performance details were given when the car was revealed, but it is believed to have an electric driving range of about 500km.

Mr Emery said there is uncertainty among the industry about when EVs will become more mainstream and that he hoped Nissan's track record in the field would hold it in good stead in the future.

“Our attitude to Leaf is we want to sustain our presence. The EV market will move at some point. I was at a (federal government-initiated stakeholder engagement) forum with politicians on Monday (last week).

“They are not sure, and I don't think the industry is sure, when that tipping point will be that electric vehicles will be a mainstream purchase decision. I just want to make sure that when that tipping point comes, people say, 'Nissan has been doing that for 10 years'.”

Mr Emery said that unless there was a “massive shift in government policy or consumer preference”, that wider adoption of EV cars would be “still 10 years away”.

He added that Nissan was the “best judge” of this, highlighting consumer trends that show a declining Leaf order figure that corresponds with falling oil prices.

“The view that consumers are going more and more green from a car decision-making point of view, it doesn't hold water. As soon as petrol prices goes down, they don’t buy fuel-efficient cars.

“My gut feeling is there will be vehicles over the next 10 years that pique people's interest from a trend perspective as Prius did originally, and to some extent Tesla is at the moment. In terms of being a mainstream fundamental decision between a gasoline or diesel car and an electric car or low-emissions vehicle, I think it is 10 years away.

“It might drift up but I don’t think it is going to leap ahead like small SUVs, for example, have in Australia. Which is a pity, because ultimately, the solution the globe needs is not just people driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, it's more public transport, it is a whole of society solution. If everyone thinks people driving electric cars are going to save the world, they are kidding themselves.”

In terms of offering more electrified models down the track, and the possibility of a performance-focused model using EV technology, Mr Emery said he would welcome it.

“If Nissan takes the approach that they want to expand their zero emissions, and I think (Nissan motor Co. chairman, CEO and president, Carlos) Ghosn has said that he wants to be seen as a leader in this space, if that means other products at a different level then I would be taking every one I possibly could to present ourselves in that light in terms of local car companies.”

The only other electrified vehicle Nissan Australia offers is the hybrid version of the Pathfinder large SUV, which makes up just eight per cent of overall sales for the seven-seat wagon, less than what Mr Emery was hoping for when it launched.

“I am happy with the Pathfinder. And on hybrid we will ultimately be driven by customer preference. If customers don't want to buy (an) SUV hybrid we won't offer it.

“We probably thought it might have done better than 10-12 per cent of the mix.

It is around eight per cent, depending on the month.”

The Renault-Nissan Alliance is the global EV sales leader and the Leaf takes up more than 50 per cent of all worldwide EV sales, with more than 200,000 units shifted.

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