Nissan Leaf to be Restyled for European Market, Feature Reduced Price

Nissan will design the Euro-market Leaf EV to suit European tastes, and could also lower the car’s price, according to Automotive News. Though the same Japanese-built car available in the U.S. went on sale in select areas in Europe last year, Nissan says it will restyle the Leaf for Europe before it begins production at Nissan’s plant in Sunderland, England next February.

“We’ll fine-tune the car for the European customer from a design point of view,” Nissan Europe’s vice president of engineering Colin Lawther told Automotive News.

In addition to the EV’s looks, which European critics have described as awkward and bland, Lawther says driving range will also be improved from the current rating of roughly 100 miles, and power delivery will be refined for less jerky acceleration.

Despite having won European Car of the Year in 2011, the Leaf has been a slow seller in Europe, with 1733 units sold so far toward Nissan’s target of 20,000-25,000 Leaf sales in 2012. This is partly due to its limited availability outside of regions offering EV incentives, as well as the car’s high price. In the UK, the Leaf starts at 25,990 pounds (about $41,600) including a 5000-pound government electric vehicle grant.

“Obviously one of the problems is that the initial purchase price is very high,” Lawther said to Automotive News. “Making it in the UK will take about a third of the cost of the car out.”

The car is currently built at Nissan’s plant in Oppama, Japan, and is exported to other markets. As we previously reported, the Leaf will be built in the U.S. at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tenn. plant beginning later this year, and at the Sunderland, England plant for the European market early next year. By building the Leaf in the UK, the cost savings from reduced logistics, lower import taxes, and removing the strong Japanese yen from the equation will help keep the price down. In addition, order times will be reduced by six to eight weeks, Lawther says.

“European content will be [in] the high 90s in terms of percentage,” Lawther told Automotive News.

Production of batteries at the Sunderland plant began recently, and the only major item expected to still be imported from Japan is the electric motor, which Nissan is considering building in the UK as well. Restyled Leaf models built in the UK will be sold exclusively in Europe, though future U.S.-built models could see similar range improvements.

Source: Automotive News (Subscription required)

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