We’re in the thick of the mainstream, long-range EV war with competition between American, German, Korean and Japanese automakers. Nissan Canada CEO Steve Milette says his company’s experience will be the defining factor
Today, car buyers have a wider selection of long-range electric vehicles to shop for. But, on paper, they all seem relatively similar: long and standard battery sizes, optional all-wheel-drive and range between 300 and 500 km.
With the 2023 Nissan Ariya joining the fray this year and replacing the Leaf as the brand’s flagship EV, we find out what makes this Japanese offering stand out.
Electric Autonomy spoke to Nissan Canada CEO Steve Milette. He says the brand’s experience and preparation are among the key reasons the Ariya will succeed in this packed field.
According to Milette, to see why the Ariya has a leg up on the competition you need to start by turning back the calendar to 2011.
Drawing from the past
It’s easy to forget that the Nissan Leaf arrived 12 years ago — a novel product in the mainstream auto market. The Leaf debuted with just 117 km of range. Despite this it was considered a successful vehicle boasting a sensible design, adequate performance and city-centred range.
Since its debut, the Leaf has racked up 16 billion kilometres and sold 600,000 units, globally. That’s a lot of mileage and Nissan isn’t throwing that fact away.
“We like to say we were pioneers,” says Milette. “We were mass market. We didn’t start with an inaccessible, super luxury vehicle. The Leaf is, and was, a [more] accessible mass-market vehicle.”
The EV market has changed considerably since then, with shoppers now seeking larger, longer-range rides. The second-generation Leaf boasts a long-range model with a maximum of 363 km of range, but the market has evolved to demand more from emissions-free motoring.
That’s where the Ariya comes in, with front and e-4ORCE all-wheel-drive versions that can pair with a standard or extended-range battery. It offers between 214 and 389 hp, along with 330 to 482 km of range.
Prices range from $52,998 (MSRP) for the Engage FWD model to $69,998 for the Premiere trim.
Leaf-to-Ariya Nissan dealer experience
Those figures and prices put the Ariya in the heart of the current mainstream EV playing field. But Nissan has a competitive advantage for Ariya thanks to 12 years of selling and servicing Leafs.
“Some dealers at other automakers aren’t ready,” says Milette. “They’re using makeshift hoists or forklifts to service EVs and batteries. You can’t do that. We have the tools and equipment to properly handle EVs.”
However, he explains there are 209 Nissan dealerships across Canada. Only 131 are EV-ready; although more are on the way.
“Ultimately, every dealer will have to be an Ariya or EV dealer,” he says. “We’re in a very progressive country in terms of electrification, so the dealers won’t have a choice.”
The Nissan dealership EV experience can extend to charging as well. Dealers that sell the Leaf already have Level 2 chargers on site, so customers get back a topped-up battery after a service or take delivery of a fully charged vehicle when purchasing a new EV.
With the Ariya entering the market, some dealers are preparing to install Level 3 chargers.
“We’re not asking to make them public-facing, but many of them are choosing to,” Milette points out.
“This is more of an operational issue because, one day, we imagine a Toronto dealer will be selling 50 to 60 EVs a month and will need to charge all of them.”
Also, it’s possible that Ariya buyers may be visiting their local dealers to fast-charge their EVs, seeing as the vehicle supports charge speeds up to 130 kW and can recharge from 10-80 percent in about 40 minutes.
Understanding the present market
There are more lessons learned from the time with the Leaf, specifically what customers want or don’t want.
“In comparison to the Leaf, the Ariya is considered an SUV, and that’s a very wide segment,” says Milette. “It ranges from low-range to luxury. One of the top purchase reasons that comes up in all of our surveys is the availability of all-wheel-drive. The reason why a shopper chooses to buy a model or not, is because of AWD.”
As a result, the Nissan Ariya Evolve e-4ORCE AWD costs $60,598. This is less than the Ford Mustang Mach-E AWD, similar to the Kia EV6 AWD, but more expensive than the AWD versions of the VW ID.4 and Hyundai IONIQ 5. Nissan is right in the middle of its rivals.
“This is to respond to our customers’ needs. If you’re constrained by price, the FWD models or standard battery models with AWD will work for you,” Milette says.
The next step for Nissan, Ariya and electrification
Selling EVs in Canada for as long as it has, Nissan has seen how extreme temperatures and long distances between major cities present challenges for battery-powered vehicles. Electric vehicle ranges, like combustion vehicles, often drop in cold temperatures. Some OEMs, including Nissan, feel this range reduction is a product of the lithium-ion technology used in the battery.
“One of our big steps towards our Ambition 2030 (Nissan’s plan to introduce 27 new electrified models, including 19 new EVs by the fiscal year 2030, with an electrification mix of 55% globally across the Nissan and Infiniti brands) is the development of an all-solid-state battery,” says Milette. “To remove some of these anxieties on cold weather and range, you’ll need a different battery technology.”
According to the Nissan Canada CEO, the solid-state batteries that the company is developing will be less sensitive to cold weather, have shorter charge times and will feature double the density.
This, Nissan hopes, will help bring about more affordable EVs to the masses.
“For the same size battery, you could have double the power or range, you could use smaller batteries for the same range we currently have,” says Milette.
So, while the Leaf paved the way for Nissan EVs, the Ariya is the next big step for the automaker. And solid-state batteries will help set the stage for the company’s future electrification goals.