Tesla and Chevy usually grab all the all-electric vehicle headlines, but neither are on top of the heap — since it was first sold in 2011, the Nissan Leaf has amassed the most highway-ready all-electric sales. The Leaf’s numbers — power and range — don’t match up with its competitors, but its low price has made it a very popular pick for those leaving gas-powered cars behind. But, Nissan is slowly letting out details about the next iteration of the vehicle, and there’s enough here to suggest that Nissan might be planning to take a big leap forward.
Last week, the company revealed that the Leaf will ship with Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist semi-autonomous driving technology, which they first debuted in their Serena minivan. For now, it’s a less ambitious version of Tesla’s embattled Autopilot technology — it’ll only work in a single lane, for one. While the usual caution should still be taken (always be ready to take the wheel), ProPILOT is a bit like advanced cruise control. The vehicle can adjust speed based on cars ahead and behind and can steer itself to stay in the lane, even around bends.
The best thing about these drive systems is that they’re software-dependent — the Leaf will ship with sensors that can accommodate more advanced autonomous driving like city driving (ProPILOT currently only works on highways). Should Nissan add more autonomous driving features in the future, you won’t need a new Leaf model to get in on them — they can be delivered to existing cars with an update.
This is just one feature of many that we’ll learn soon about the next Nissan Leaf. Nissan looks like they’re building up to something big, and they’ll need to — their affordable electric hatchback is getting some serious competition this year. After measured success with the Model S and X and the Volt, both Tesla and Chevy are now going after the mass market. The Chevy Bolt is a hatchback that starts at under $40,000 and has a range of over 200 miles, while the Tesla Model 3 is a low-cost sedan that also eclipses a range of 200 miles for a $35,000 starting price. The Bolt has already started shipping and the Model 3 is set to this year, meaning the pressure is on for Nissan to deliver something that delivers both performance and affordability.