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Nissan Leaf Gets More Range, But Electric Car Prospects Grim

Nissan Leaf Gets More Range, But Electric Car Prospects Grim.

“the forecast for 2020 has been pushed back five years to 2025”

SILVERSTONE, England – Nissan has added a bit of range to its new version of the Leaf electric car but the outlook for battery-only vehicles looks grim as sales, in Europe at least, only seem to react to tax payer handouts.

Nissan says its new Leaf sedan has been given a more powerful 30 Kw battery, which increases range by at least 25 per cent. The trouble is, this is 25 per cent on top of not very much so the claimed range in Europe is 155 miles, up from 124 miles with the previous 24 Kw battery. This means that in real world use – air conditioning and heating and infotainment switched on, four sturdy passengers, a cold or a hot day with hills to climb – the usable range is now probably close to 95 miles, compared with 75 miles for the previous model, according to those who drive the old car regularly. In the U.S., the official range figure for the new car is 107 miles versus 84 miles.

Paul Willcox, Chairman of Nissan Europe is excited about the progress made.

“The Leaf, the best-selling EV (electric vehicle) in the world, just got even better. And up to 155 miles opens the world of EV to thousands of drivers across Europe who before just weren’t completely confident that an EV would work for them. This extra range will make Leaf ownership an easy first choice, for many, many more drivers,” Willcox said.

20 more miles won’t help much
The ability to offer about 20 more miles isn’t going to stimulate a rush to electric car showrooms, and the range issue won’t be solved until it offers more like 250 to 300 real miles on a charge, while prices need to fall by about half at the same time.

The Leaf, a four-door family sedan, retails in Britain at the equivalent of $37,300 including taxes, and after a government grant of $7,900.

According to Peter Schmidt, editor of British-based Automotive Industry Data (AID), demand for battery only vehicles in Europe and America reflect subsidies above all.

“In Europe and America electric car sales are determined by subsidies paid by government. The higher the lure paid to potential customers, the higher the take-up rate. The second these subsidies are cut, the market dies almost immediately,” Schmidt said.

On the surface though, sales in Western Europe look as though they might finally be turning healthy.

Schmidt said in December last year, sales in Western Europe hit a market share of one per cent for the first time, bringing sales for the year to 89,640 compared with 58,688 the previous year.

AID’s numbers include only pure battery vehicles like the Leaf, Renault Zoe, VW Golf E and E UP, and the Tesla Model S.

These numbers benefitted from a sudden upsurge in Germany and from a strong performance in France. Schmidt cautions those who predict this means electric car sales are taking off, that both markets were boosted by outside measures.

Soul German mystery
In Germany, Kia suddenly sold about 1,000 Soul electric cars, linked by local media to a need to massage data for the Korean companies European Union (E.U.) emissions targets. In France, electric car sales spurted by about two thirds to 17,268 last year. Electric car buyers there receive a government handout of around $14,400 if accompanied by the scraping of a 14-year old diesel. In Denmark, government subsidies are being scaled back because it was seen as a handout to people who could afford to buy an electric car anyway.

In Western Europe, which includes all the big markets like Germany, Britain, France, Spain and Italy, Schmidt expects electric car market share to reach about 0.8 per cent in 2016, up from 0.68 per cent in 2015. The overall market was 13.2 million in 2015. He says all bets are off though if Germany decides to introduce subsidies after agonising for years. Germany has a target of one million electric cars on the roads by 2020, but last year sales were only just over 20,000. Recent media reports from German persist in saying the government is about to launch a $2.2 billion program.

Zealots for electric only power will be disappointed by the revised and weaker outlook for the global market.

Alix Partners, in a recent report, said because of a combination of factors, the forecast for 2020 has been pushed back five years to 2025. Alix Partners now expects global sales market share of 5.7 per cent – close to 6.5 million vehicles by 2025 – although its conservative forecast is only 3.0 per cent.

Prices too high
Until a couple of years ago, Nissan and its alliance partner Renault were still saying in 2020 electric cars would capture 10 per cent of global sales.

Alix Partners says this shortfall is because government infrastructure investment for charging stations has been inadequate, limited range of electric vehicles, while prices are too high.

AID’s Schmidt agrees, adding the shocking fall in the oil price too.

“Initially it looked as though we were going to see a toehold of electric cars by 2020, but now, as we look at the lowest fuel prices for years, we see weakening demand for these alternative fuel vehicles. Buyers in Europe are not only looking at low fuel prices as manna from heaven and dismissing battery cars and plug in hybrids, they are jumping on the SUV band wagon,” Schmidt said.

“In my view, we won’t see any significant increase in take up rates before 2025,” Schmidt said.

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