Nissan's Leaf EV will get a little bit lighter, a little bit more efficient, and a little bit less expensive soon: the automaker pulled the wraps off its lightly tweaked 2013 Leaf EV today, also announcing that Leaf production has started in Smyrna, Tennessee.
It's a couple of turns of the screw for the Leaf, admittedly: the Japanese domestic-market Leaf already received the same updates for the new model year, which we reported on late last year. Furthermore, we've been hearing about stateside assembly for the Leaf (along with talks of U.S.-produced battery packs and motors) for a while.
It should come as little surprise, then, that all of those factors came together this morning. Nissan says that the Leaf is now being assembled on the Smyrna, Tennessee production line along with the Altima mid-size sedan and Maxima full-size sedan. The battery packs, which were developed in a joint venture between Nissan and NEC, are produced on-site; the electric motors are made at Nissan's Decherd, Tennessee powertrain plant, just 75 miles away.
As for the Leaf itself, a slew of minor changes are afoot. The biggest among them is the onboard charger: Nissan engineers threw out the trunk-mounted charger from the current car and replaced it with a smaller, lighter one under the hood. The added benefit is that the new charger is considerably quicker than the old one--Nissan now estimates that Leafs equipped with the new charger can nearly cut charge times in half, now down to about four hours.
One caveat about this new charger, however, is that it's not standard across the Leaf range. Just as with the Japanese Leaf, Nissan added a third, entry-level S model to the American Leaf range, joining the mid-range SV and top-spec SL. The S model rides atop 16-inch steel wheels and makes do without GPS navigation, Carwings telematics, and cruise control, and it uses the old Leaf's slower on-board charger, but it could save buyers a hefty amount of cash. Nissan won't release American pricing for the Leaf yet, but in Japan the S model is about the equivalent of $5000 less than the mid-range X model (similar to our SV). As you might expect, Nissan will let S-model customers add that charger back in with the quick charge options package (which includes the more powerful charger, a quick-charge port, and a rear-view camera).
While the job of keeping costs low goes to the S model, the SV and SL models show off some new kit. Aside from the new charger, SV and SL models receive something called a "hybrid heater" system that draws less power in cold weather, a new engine-braking mode that maximizes regenerative braking without resorting to the Leaf's sluggish Eco mode, and an updated navigation system with Google Maps and Pandora Internet Radio integration. SV and SL models also get two more speakers for the audio system, and a selection of new interior colors. SL models now offer leather-trimmed seats and automatic LED headlights, as well as 17-inch aluminum wheels.
We're still waiting on full pricing for the 2013 Leaf, but Nissan also teased us by mentioning that the Leaf's total range ratings (Nissan claims a round 100 miles; the EPA says 73 miles) could increase, thanks to minor exterior changes that bump the car's coefficient of drag down to 0.28. While the JDM Leaf also drops a hefty amount of weight--176 pounds to be exact--Nissan couldn't confirm that those changes will extend to the American model at press time.
The 2013 Leaf will head to showrooms later this year.