► Nissan electrifies its range
► Leaf and Ariya, but what's next?
► New EV36Zero initiative explained
Nissan is ramping up its electrification efforts in Europe with a new EV36Zero investment plan in its Sunderland plant.
But the brand has been the face of electrification for years, so what comes next?
What are Nissan's current electric cars?
As it stands, there's the Leaf hatchback and upcoming Ariya crossover. Nissan has also announced another EV, which we expect to be the Leaf's replacement.
The Leaf was originally a pioneer as an EV in its first generationthat arrived in 2011, with the second-generation opening up the possibility of EV ownership to a larger crowd with its more competitive pricing and larger range possibilities.
Even so, the Leaf has lagged behind the competition in recent years, as the pace of change in the electric car industry has sped up exponentially. What was once a true EV contender is now an also-ran in the face of competition from so many more mainstream car makers, with its mediocre range and usability compromises now compared unfavourably to the likes of VW's ID.3, Tesla's Model 3 and Polestar 2. So, Nissan is stepping up its efforts.
The first new EV from the brand is the much-mooted Ariya. It's a large crossover SUV designed to take on the VW ID.4 and Ford Mustang Mach-E among other rivals, arriving at the end of 2021 with two battery sizes and an all-new electric platform shared with Renault and Mitsubishi. The CMF-EV platform under the Ariya can be specced with two battery sizes – 68 and 87kWh – with the option of rear- or all-wheel drive and a maximum range of 310 miles from the thriftiest of the versions coming.
There is also, of course, the latest Qashqai. It's not a battery-electric vehicle, but a range-extender version is coming very soon under the brand's new e-Power banner. There is an engine, but it does not drive the wheels; instead it charges the battery, effectively meaning the Qashqai e-Power drives like an electric car without the need for a plug.
After that, the Nissan has confirmed it's developing a second electric crossover (which we suspect will replace the ageing Leaf) as part of a massive investment plan at the brand's Sunderland plant in the UK. It too will be based on the CMF-EV platform, but we expect it to have a smaller footprint than the Ariya. Nissan says the Sunderland plant is the best place for the job, since it's been building Leaf models there for nine years.
What's this about a major investment?
It's been dubbed EV36Zero by Nissan – a £1bn hub based at the brand's Sunderland plant that includes the building of a new battery Gigafactory, a new line for this aforementioned new Nissan electric car to be built, and a renewable 'microgrid' for the entire Sunderland site. The plans also include methods to reuse EV batteries as energy storage at the facility.
Nissan says the interconnected project will create 6200 jobs for Nissan, including 909 new roles at the Sunderland plant to manufacture the new EV. The decision to manufacture the new vehicle at the North East England plant takes up around £423m of the £1bn investment.
The new gigafactory builds on Envision AESC's battery plant established in 2012 in Sunderland, that already manufactures batteries for the Leaf and e-NV200.
Will Nissan make an electric sports car?
It's been debated for years within the design, R&D and product planning departments of Nissan to create an electrified sports car. Nissan has been almost as silent as an EV on the future of its iconic sports cars, the 370Z and GT-R. But product planner Ivan Espinosa admitted to CAR in 2019 that the company was debating whether the next 370Z should be all-electric, as Porsche and Audi are mulling over for the 718 Cayman/Boxster and TT replacements.
Naturally, that didn't happen. The new Z car has already been revealed, which we're tentatively calling the 400Z. It's thoroughly old-school, harking back to classic Z cars and comes with a turbocharged V6, the option of a manual and even a manual handbrake.
Still, Espinosa told CAR an electric Z was under discussion 'all the time'. But he added: 'We need to be careful. Is the consumer ready for an electric sports car? We have endlessly debated this.'
It's a difficult balance because Nissan may end up with something that's neither fish nor fowl. 'The more traditional buyers, are they 100 per cent there? And then there's the technology question: when will it be ready to deliver the performance expected of a sports car?' muses Espinosa.
Even if the product planning teams didn't make the decision to make their Z car an EV this time, the brand certainly knows that it can only sell it in certain markets as to not affects its fleet emissions. Hence why the new V6-powered Z car isn't coming to Europe – the brand is instead focusing on selling it in North America and Japan.
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