Nov 20 (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co, hoping to boost disappointing sales for the Leaf electric car, on Tuesday said it has improved the driving range of its alternative-fuel vehicle by 14 percent and lowered its price tag.
Nissan officials said changes to the remodeled Leaf, shown Tuesday in Tokyo, were based on comments from customers who voiced fears of their vehicle running out of its electric charge and stranding them.
Electric vehicles, including the Leaf, have not caught on as fast as some expected due to concerns over driving range, as well as the lack of a charging infrastructure and customer resistance to paying too high a price premium over similar sized gas-powered cars.
“When technologies employed to cars are still in their first generation, it’s not so easy for customers to try them out. We think that our new pricing and improvement in performance could be key to helping customers switch to electric vehicles,” Nissan Leaf engineer Hidetoshi Kadota told reporters.
The remodeled Leaf can run 228 km (140 miles) when fully charged up from about 200 km before. Nissan officials said the car shed some 80 kg (180 pounds) through powertrain rearrangement and a lighter lithium-ion battery structure.
The driving range with use of air conditioner has also improved from the 120 km in the first-generation model, executives said, though they declined to give a specific figure.
In the new model, Nissan lowered the starting price of the Leaf in Japan to about 3.3 million yen ($40,700) from 3.8 million yen by introducing a lower grade. With subsidies, that starting price drops to around 2.6 million yen.
The remodeled Leaf went on sale in Japan on Tuesday and is set to be released in the United States in the first quarter of 2013. The sales timing for Europe has yet to be set.
Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn has acknowledged that achieving the goal to double global Leaf sales this fiscal year to about 40,000 vehicles would be difficult. Nissan sold 11,720 Leaf cars in the six months to September.
The Leaf is not the only EV to struggle. In the United States, General Motors Co’s Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid car has come short of expectations, while Fisker Automotive’s Karma plug-in has experienced numerous problems, though both are hybrid cars that include a gasoline engine as well. ID:nL1E8KP2GN]
The new Leaf has more room in the trunk than the previous model after the charger was moved to the front of the car. It also has a more efficient heating system, executives said.