Maybe We Need Shorter Range Electric Cars?

©. Nissan

Rumors of the new Nissan Leaf's range have me pondering a heretical idea...

As we wait for the reveal of the new generation Nissan Leaf in September, rumors had been circulating in some circles of the internet of 200, maybe even 300, miles of range. Given the arrival of the 200+/300+ mile Tesla Model 3 and the 238 mile Chevy Bolt, many Leaf fans were hoping that Nissan would also enter the world of truly long-range electric vehicles.

Now, however, someone appears to have accidentally leaked some specs. And if they prove to be correct, then the new Leaf's batter pack's capacity will only be 40 kWh. That's up 25% from the current 107-mile Leaf, but nowhere near the size of the Model 3 (50/75 kWh) or Bolt (60kWh).

Even though Nissan has been teasing aerodynamic improvements as a boost to its range, one has to assume that a 40 kWh battery would mean significantly less range than the Bolt or Model 3. Various auto blogs are estimating between 145 and 170 miles of range. Predictably, many internet commenters were derisory. "Beyond disappointing," said one former Leaf fan on a forum I can no longer find.

But I'm not so sure. Alongside battery capacity, the leak also revealed that the base price Leaf comes in at $29,990. That's about $5,000 less than either of the competition. Given that pure electric cars have so far often been second cars for many families, there may be a case to be made for mid-range, lower cost electric vehicles which you can drive out of town if you have to, but are primarily used for the daily commute.

In my own experience of driving a used 2013 Nissan Leaf with 86 miles of range, I've rarely come close to draining the battery. But I have, occasionally, had to swap vehicles with my wife if I had a business trip on the edge of my range. 160 or 170 miles of range would enable me to drive from Durham, NC, to Wilmington on the coast (160 miles)—or Asheville in the mountains (200 miles)—with only a short, ten to twenty minute stop at a fast charger on the way. It would also allow me to better pick which charging stations I want to use. (Currently, the same journeys would involve at least three charging stops and, due to lack of infrastructure in certain spots, some of those would need to be at slower, Level 2 charging stations.) The other thing that has not yet been revealed—to my knowledge—is what rate of charge the new Leaf's onboard charger will be able to handle. The occasional Level 2 charge with my current Leaf's 6.6kW charger is a lot more onerous than with the Tesla Model 3's 10 kW charger.

All of this is, of course, speculation. It may be that the battery size is entirely wrong. Or that a battery upgrade will be available. But it does get me thinking—even with cars with 200+ or 300+ mile ranges, there may still be a market for cars with 150, or even 80 mile ranges. As long as the price is right. Of course, we could also do with more e-bikes and less car dependent cities.

Which means, I guess, we need options.