Nissan Motor Co., seeking to be the biggest mass-market seller of electric vehicles, said it will offer an option to U.S. owners of its Leaf hatchback to upgrade to the latest lithium-ion battery technology.
Starting in the first half of 2014, the Yokohama, Japan-based automaker will set up the program for customers to exchange battery packs, charging about $100 a month, Nissan said in an e-mailed statement. Currently, the automaker guarantees to replace or fix Leaf battery packs that fall below a certain performance level within the first five years of ownership, or 60,000 miles (96,540 kilometers).
“Technology is evolving and battery prices are projected to decline as EVs become increasingly mainstream,” Erik Gottfried, Nissan’s director of North American electric vehicle sales, said in the statement. The optional program “affords more flexibility for the future so that customers can both upgrade to the latest available technology for their Leaf and enjoy more predictable vehicle operating costs.”
The evolving battery vehicle market has forced carmakers to be flexible in how they sell their models. Honda Motor Co. recently cut the lease price for its electric Fit and Nissan repriced the Leaf model line for 2013, adding a modified lithium-ion pack that recharges faster and has improved range. Tesla Motors Inc., which led North American electric car sales in the first quarter, is building a U.S. network of supercharger devices to let customers recharge in about 30 minutes.
Nissan said details of the battery replacement program are still being worked out.
Leaf sales have almost tripled this year to 7,614 through May, according to the company. The company has declined to say how many of the cars it plans to sell this year, after falling short of initial volume targets in 2011 and 2012.
The base model Leaf, now built in Smyrna, Tennessee, costs $28,800, down from $35,200 for the previous entry-level model. The car averages 75 miles per charge, up from 73 miles previously, and qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit. The 2013 Leaf can be repowered in three hours using a 240-volt electric outlet, half the time previously required, the company has said.
Nissan’s North American unit is based in Franklin, Tennessee.