The car maker’s electrification schedule might have kicked off with the Leaf, but it doesn’t end there.
The Australian arm of Japanese car maker Nissan is looking to build on the name it made for itself launching the Nissan Leaf in 2012, outlining plans to launch a full electrified range locally by 2022 – and no model is off-limits.
With any luck, these plans will kick off with the recently-announced Nissan Ariya which, according to Nissan Australia’s managing director Stephen Lester, is high on the wish list.
“For us in Australia we have a strong feeling that this car would be perfect for our market,” Mr Lester told CarAdvice ahead of World EV Day on September 9.
“It would make a lot of sense in that crossover segment – the most dominant segment in the market overall – as it appeals to the widest range of drivers, from those with families looking for utility, through to empty nesters.”
While the status of the Ariya in Australia remains unconfirmed, CarAdvice understands that if it were to come here, the Ariya likely wouldn’t arrive in showrooms until 2022, with a price point to compete with the Tesla Model 3 (which starts from $73,900 before on-road costs).
However, Mr Lester said Nissan would consider a “basket” of competing brands before positioning a local offering.
Though the Nissan Leaf is the third most affordable all-electric car in Australia (behind the Hyundai Ioniq and the departing Renault Zoe), buyers may not necessarily benefit from entry-level pricing across Nissan’s future electric offerings.
“Obviously the lower down the price band you are, the more potential people you have that can purchase your vehicle, but what is also important is that you deliver a vehicle that does what it says it’s going to do,” Mr Lester said.
Regardless of whether or not the Nissan Ariya makes it to our shores, Australian consumers should expect almost a third of the brand’s local portfolio to be electrified in two years’ time.
“From an Australian perspective, we expect to have 30 per cent of our portfolio electrified by 2022,” Mr Lester said, citing both full-electric options and Nissan’s e-Power hybrid technology as part of this plan.
So, what kinds of electric and hybrid models are likely to debut over the next 24-or-so months?
“As far as concepts being worked on globally, there’s not a segment we’re not at least looking at,” Mr Lester said.
Even an electrified ute isn’t off the table, although Mr Lester suggested this might be more of a task for the litany of start-ups targeting pick-up buyers with a penchant for electrification.
“I think there’s no less than three brands – not mainstream automotive brands – that have been launching in that exact space,” he said, referring to challenger brands like Rivian, Bollinger and Nikola.
“In Australia, [utes] play a very important role in the market and I have no reason to say we won’t see electric utes.”
Last year, the company confirmed it will at least add a hybrid variant to the Navara ute at some point in the future, with the next-generation model.
As for whether the pioneering Nissan Leaf will remain part of the portfolio, Mr Lester wasn’t definitive on the compact hatchback’s future in our market.
“We see EVs in all senses being the mainstay – whether or not it’s specifically the Leaf as a nameplate, time will tell,” he explained.
“To have EVs really become part of the mainstream we need more selection and more products people want to get behind the wheel of – for the vast majority of us [a car] is something you like people to see you in, it’s not just a bare necessity.”
Mr Lester also shed light on how Nissan Australia plans to tackle some of the more common barriers to electric vehicle uptake in Australia – namely: higher prices, limited charging infrastructure and the ongoing debate over the green credentials of the cars themselves.
“What most industry experts say is that by 2024, or the mid 2020s, the cost of producing an electric vehicle will be equal to that of producing an ICE vehicle, and I think that still stays in our case in the market,” Mr Lester said.
“From a production standpoint, we’d be able to price those vehicles fairly comparably.”
However, he also argued the sheer amount of technology available in electric cars, along with their ability to feed power back into the grid via bi-directional charging, could come at a price premium.
“Even in today’s case it’s not fair to take a Leaf and compare it to another vehicle of a comparable size. No other vehicle on the market offers bidirectional charging, so how can I effectively price someone else’s hatch at the same price?”
On the contentious issue of Australia’s largely coal-powered electricity grid, Mr Lester said there was certainly still room to improve.
“The reality is that in this country at the moment, coal is still a part of the grid, but that doesn’t mean it will be forever. There’s no question the government plays a huge role in that, compared to an organic movement of people,” Mr Lester said.
As for public charging infrastructure (or lack thereof)? “We will continue to advocate for a strong improvement in that area – there’s a certain ubiquity required so consumers can feel they can get a charge then they need to,” he explained.
“But while the idea of a petrol station being on every corner has become the norm, a lot of us didn’t grow up with a bowser nearby, so it’s something that organically takes some time.”
Mr Lester acknowledges that while Nissan might have been first with the Leaf, the electric car market has since ballooned to include a slew of intimidating competitors – but he believes Nissan still retains its point of difference.
“Our production and engineering are what are going to differentiate us,” he said.
“There’s no doubt that other brands will improve but competition is great, because it fuels everybody to get better and gives consumers more choice.”