2016 Nissan Leaf, Image: Nissan

Renault and Nissan will build the next-generation Zoe and Leaf electric cars using a shared platform. The cooperative endeavor should result in leaner, cleaner, and better EV technologies — something the Japanese automaker needs to implement immediately in the helplessly floundering Leaf.

While the models will have their own distinct styling, they will share the same basic framework and electric motors. Arnaud Deboeuf, senior vice president of Renault-Nissan BV, said that the new generations of the Zoe and Leaf would compete in the same segment. However, since the current Zoe is a supermini, it will need to be sized up into a compact or the Leaf will need to be miniaturized slightly. 

Speaking to Automotive News, Deboeuf avoided giving a timetable for the launch for the new EVs, but suggested that it would happen after the planned Leaf refresh in 2018. France’s Les Echos reported that the Zoe wouldn’t appear before 2020. That’s a long time for the Leaf to wait as the EV landscape continues to shift.

These are not the Nissan Leaf’s salad days. No longer a technological breakthrough, the EV has hit some very hard times. Stronger competition, cheaper gas, and wild deprecation have harmed the little electric. North American Leaf sales peaked in 2014 and have plummeted since then and the car needs away to turn that around before 2020.

Nissan’s Leaf started life with a 73-mile range in 2011, boosted that to 84 miles in 2013, and introduced a 30 kilowatt-hour battery that stretched the range to 107 miles for this year. While that helped it keep pace with other BEVs, it has slowly lost ground. It also can’t stretch that range much more without a drastic redesign, effectively keeping it a short-distance commuter. That isn’t good news considering that the Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt will have twice the range for a few thousand dollars more.

Renault recently produced an upgraded Zoe with 400 km (250 miles) of range from a single charge. The French manufacturer receives its lithium-ion pouch cells from LG Chem and Nissan could benefit greatly if some of those higher-density batteries found their way into the 107-mile Leaf before 2020. However, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault and Nissan, stated earlier this year that he didn’t feel that range would be the most important factor for EV success.

“The [range] anxiety is going to be eliminated only when we have a charging structure that is widespread and visible,” he said. “You go through many cars in your life. I never ask myself, ‘What is the range of your car?’ Why would you when you have gasoline stations all over the place. I know I could stop at any moment and charge my car … So this is going to be the real and final answer.”

That charging network isn’t in place yet and, even when it is, vehicles with the ability to travel long distances between stops will remain desirable. Someone might want to tell Ghosn that is why there were almost 400,000 preorders for Tesla’s Model 3 right after it was announced. It’s also why Nissan’s own e-Power system was such a sensation.

Ghosn has said the Leaf will compete with the Bolt, but it needs it now, not in a few more years when sales are even worse and its been lost in the mix of lesser EVs. However, that’s the timeline we have been given. Deboeuf said that the choice to develop a new shared-platform model wasn’t made lightly, adding that it has taken a long time for Nissan and Renault to become aligned on the project.

Hopefully the Leaf endure few more years worth of beatings.

[Image: Nissan]