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ProPilot autonomous Nissan Leaf coming in 'near future,' but no word on longer range

The focus here is on ProPilot self-driving tech, not a bigger or better battery.

2013 Nissan Leaf
2013 Nissan Leaf
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Let's start with what we know for sure. At CES 2017 today, Nissan officially announced that a new Nissan Leaf will be coming, "in the near future." While most observers will take this to mean that the long-awaited 200+ mile EV will finally make an appearance, there are at least two reasons to be cautious. First, the press release confirming the new Leaf doesn't talk about an increased range at all. Second, a Nissan engineer we spoke with earlier today laid out the case for not adding all that much range to the world's best-selling EV. Instead, the focus is on autonomous tech.

Here's what the official PR has to say about the new Leaf:

The model will be equipped with ProPILOT technology, enabling autonomous drive functionality for single-lane highway driving. This new LEAF will build on the company's leadership in electric vehicles, which includes more than 250,000 Nissan LEAFs sold worldwide since 2010. The new LEAF represents the next chapter of Nissan Intelligent Power.

What is Nissan Intelligent Power? Well, it's not just pure electric vehicles. As the PR says:

We continue to advance a variety of powertrain technologies under Nissan Intelligent Power, which are most suitable to the different market segments and different regions across the world. We have a diverse range of EV-based technologies in our portfolio in addition to 100% electric vehicles, these technologies include e-Power (series-hybrid) and fuel cell electric vehicles. Each new technology supplements the portfolio, but does not supplant other technologies.

So, there's a case to be made that Nissan is hinting that a future Leaf could get a hybrid powertrain, but that seems unlikely. For now, let's move on to the comments made by Nissan's senior vice president of research and advanced engineering, Takao Asami, on the sidelines of CES. He confirmed that Nissan developed a 60-kWh battery for the Leaf a number of years ago (something we already knew), but said that there's a reason it's not in the Leaf right now. "We are not selling it because price, cost, profitability, and volume were not expected to meet our business criteria," he said. At the end, the most critical issue is energy density and cost." Asami did say that the plan is to introduce a Leaf with 200 miles or more in the next couple years, but we don't know if he's talking about the new Leaf announced today or an update further down the line. If it's the latter, it's unlikely that the new Leaf will not get at least a little bit of a range boost, since that's been Nissan's strategy with the first-gen model. But, given the hesitancy built into the official announcement and Asami's comments, there's somehow less clarity about all of this after Nissan's official announcement than there was before.

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