2013 Nissan Leaf may get range boost, cheaper base model

2012 Nissan LeafThe Nissan Leaf is getting a few upgrades to keep up with the ever-increasing electric competition. According to Japan’s SankeiBiz, the 2013 Leaf will have a longer range, and Nissan will be offering a cheaper a base model with a smaller battery pack.

The current Leaf has an EPA-rated range of 73 miles, but the 2013 model will reportedly get an extra 30 miles of driving out of its lithium-ion batteries. That would bring the total range to 103 miles, meeting Nissan’s original target for the Leaf.

That boost in range should help the Leaf stay competitive in the face of other EVs. The Ford Focus Electric has an 80-mile range, although it is more powerful than the Leaf (141 hp in the Ford versus 107 hp in the Nissan). Honda’s smaller Fit EV has a range of 82 miles.

It is unclear whether the 2013 Leaf will net any extra MPGe in the EPA’s fuel economy tests. The 2012 Leaf is rated at 99 MPGe. The Focus Electric is rated at 105 MPGe, while the Fit EV leads the pack with 118 MPGe.

At the other end of the spectrum, Nissan will offer a base model with a smaller battery pack at a lower price. The current Leaf starts around $36,500, before any government rebates, but Nissan reportedly wants to bring the price down to $31,000.

For that price, buyers will sacrifice some range, although Nissan isn’t saying how much. The strategy is similar to how Tesla prices its Model S, which comes with three different-sized battery packs and three different ranges.

A $31,000 base price would bring the Leaf closer to the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the cheapest mass-produced electric car. The Mitsubishi starts at $29,975, but only has 66 hp and a 62-mile range. It is also much smaller than the Leaf.

Expanding the Leaf range seems like a good move for Nissan; normal cars come in a variety of trim levels, so why not electric cars? Provided the smaller battery options yield a reasonable range, choosing battery packs could become the EV equivalent of choosing between a four-cylinder or a V6.

In the meantime, a boost in range can’t hurt, especially since the Leaf is no longer the only electric car on the block. Since charging stations are still a rarity in the U.S., and charging can still take hours, the more range, the better.

Nissan would not confirm any pricing or range changes for the 2013 Leaf, but the public will know soon. Production begins in December at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee plant.