It’s been almost 10 years since Nissan began U.S. deliveries of the Leaf, its first mass-produced mainstream electric vehicle. While the Leaf was the best selling EV in the world until the Tesla TSLA Model 3 arrived, it never quite lived up to the projections espoused by then CEO Carlos Ghosn when he claimed that 500,000 Leafs would be produced annually by 2013. It turns out that over the past decade Nissan has sold a total of just 475,000 Leafs. It’s now almost time for a reboot of Nissan’s EV strategy which starts with the production of the Ariya.
The Nissan Ariya debuted as a concept at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show and later made an appearance at CES this past January just before all major events ground to a halt. Unlike the compact hatchback Leaf, the Ariya has adopted one of the most popular form factors on the road today, compact crossover utility.
The Ariya will be built on an all-new dedicated EV platform developed by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance and will presumably spawn additional battery EV models in the coming years although Nissan isn’t yet giving any clues about when.
The production Ariya being shown today is visually almost identical to the concept shown last fall and frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. It eschews some of the more sharply creased lines on recent Nissan introductions including the recently revealed Rogue in favor of a more organic shape. In fact the flow of the sheetmetal on the Ariya’s flanks are more reminiscent of Mazda’s current design language.
The Ariya’s face is an evolution of the V-Motion concept into dark shield with signature lighting trim limited to the sides. Hidden behind this face are the various sensors required to support ProPilot Assist 2.0 which we’ll come back to later.
Under the body, the Ariya is the first Nissan EV to adopt a liquid-cooled battery back which should enable better durability, performance and faster charging. The battery will be offered in two sizes, 65-kWh and 90-kWh with 63-kWh and 87-kWh actually being available to use.
As is becoming common in the EV space, the Ariya will be offered with a choice of one or two motors. However, unlike the Tesla Model Y and the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the default position of the single motor is at the front axle rather than the rear. Speaking of the front, unlike the those other two electric utilities, Nissan has packaged a lot of components that would normally be in the dashboard up front on top of that motor much as the power electronics are in the Leaf today. That means no front trunk on the Nissan.
With a length and width of 182.9-inches and 74.8-inches, the Ariya is virtually the same length but 2.5-inches wider than the Rogue and about 3-inches shorter than the Mach-E. Comparing the Nissan to the Ford, it seems that the Ariya pretty much the concept that Ford originally planned for its new EV before abandoning it in favor of the more performance oriented design we know today.
The front drive Ariya will deliver 160-kW of power while the dual motor all-wheel-drive edition will peak at 290-kW. That’s an impressive 388-hp which while short of what Ford and Tesla are achieving should be more than enough for almost all but the most hard-core enthusiast drivers and well beyond what any Leaf provides.
With the large battery and front-wheel drive, Nissan is projecting that the Ariya will about 300-miles of range on the U.S. EPA test cycles. That puts it in the same ballpark as the Ford and well beyond what any current European brand EVs are achieving right now.
Another big change for Nissan is the switch from the CHAdeMO DC fast charging standard to the combined charging standard (CCS). CHAdeMO was originally developed in Japan but it was really only adopted by Japanese automakers and only Mitsubishi and Nissan have used it North America. While there are more than 3,300 charging stations with CHAdeMO connectors in North America, the CCS and Tesla proprietary Supercharger networks are growing much faster. CCS also now has support for charging rates up to 350-kW. The Ariya will support DC fast charging at up to 130-kw, 30% faster than the rate supported by the current Leaf Plus.
Inside, the Ariya also stays close to the concept with a minimalist, Tesla-like dashboard. Unlike the Model 3 and Modely Y, the Ariya features two 12.3-inch displays, one of which is a touchscreen, while the other serves as the instrument cluster, directly in front of the driver. Below the central display, there are climate controls embedded in the surface that light up from below the wood veneer surface. These controls remain illuminated as long as the vehicle is on. They provide haptic feedback meant to simulate physical controls, but you still have to look to know where to touch.
The new hybrid personal assistant that’s built in, includes cloud connectivity to enable natural language processing of commands as well as an embedded component for those times when the connection isn’t available. The Nissan assistant is augmented with Amazon AMZN AMZN Alexa voice services to provide additional functionality including anything you can do with an Echo device.
The Ariya is also the first Nissan vehicle to incorporate over-the-air software update capabilities which are now being rolled out by many manufacturers after Tesla has had an exclusive on this for the past eight years. The addition of OTA is probably a factor in the Ariya being the first Nissan to get ProPilot Assist 2.0 (PPA2) in outside of Japan.
PPA2 launched in late 2019 on the Japanese market Skyline sedan and largely replicates the capabilities of GM’s Super Cruise partially automated system as well as Ford’s upcoming Active Drive Assist. When driving on divided highways, the system enables hands-free operation, in contrast to the current ProPilot that requires hands on the wheel. Like the other systems PPA2 features an infrared driver monitor camera to ensure the driver is alert and ready to take back control if needed.
At this point PPA2 doesn’t do auto lane changes, but it will prompt the driver and provide guidance when it’s clear to make a lane change, with the driver actually doing the steering. At least for the Japanese market, Nissan is using Mobileye’s Roadbook HD map system to geofence operation, limiting it to highways. As with the competitors additional sensors have been added bringing the new total to seven cameras (including a tri-focal front camera system and four surround cameras), five radars and 12 ultrasonic sensors. Perhaps by the time the Ariya actually arrives on U.S. roads, Nissan may have even upgraded the capability but the OTA system will certainly allow for that after delivery as well.
Speaking of arrival, the Ariya won’t be going on sale in Japan until mid-2021 and should hit U.S. dealerships before the end of next year. Detailed pricing is yet to come but the base sticker should be around $40,000. As of June 2020, Nissan had sold about 145,000 Leafs so far in the US and unless those pick up dramatically in the next year, the automaker should still be well shy of the 200,000 sales threshold where federal tax credits are phased out. That means Ariya buyers should be able to get the full $7,500 credit well into 2022 and at least a partial credit through the remainder of the year.