Nissan IDS concept

Just before the Tokyo Motor Show last week, Nissan did something highly unusual. It invited members of the press to visit is super-secret Advanced Technology Center in Atsugi, a town in the mountains southwest of Tokyo. Up to that point, most people assumed that when the second generation LEAF goes on sale in 2018, it will have double the range of the original. Since 2011, the LEAF has come with a 24 kWh battery good for about 82 miles of all electric driving. Everyone thought the new car would have a 48 kWh battery with about 160 miles of range. But in fact, the new car will have a 60 kWh battery that is said to permit as much as 500 kilometers of range in the rather optimistic Japanese test cycle.

500 kilometers translates into 300 miles, but that number is typically about 1/3 less using EPA standards, so we can expect roughly 200 miles of range in US trim. The new battery not only has more than double the power of the original, it fits in the same space as the battery from 2010. How is that possible?

The credit goes to scientists at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. They started working back in 2011 on a new battery cathode made from an allow of nickel, manganese and cobalt that permits significantly higher energy flow and higher voltages. The new cathode makes it possible to more than double battery power and slash recharging times in half. It’s a closely guarded secret, but Bertil Schmitt of the Daily Kanban says he was told the new battery is the result of a collaboration between Nissan and LG Chem. Sharp eyed readers will remember that LG Chem also supplies the battery for the Chevy Volt and is partnering with Chevrolet on its upcoming Bolt electric car.

While Nissan offered few hints about what the second generation car would look like, it did say the new car would incorporate several features from its IDS Concept car that was featured on its stand in Tokyo. That car makes extensive use of carbon fiber body parts. Nissan showed the journalists a carbon fiber A pillar from the IDS Concept. Is it possible that part will find its way into the next LEAF? The component is much narrower than a conventional steel A pillar, which enhances outward visibility for the driver, but the A pillar is critical to passing all 5 IIHS crash tests. Is a lighter, thinner carbon fiber component able to withstand that kind of punishment?

Nissan also says the next generation LEAF will have an autonomous driving system that is more advanced than the one Tesla uses, because it includes more cameras for a true 360 degree view around the entire automobile. More cameras mean more data. More data means more accurate control of the car. Nissan says the 2018 LEAF will be able to drive itself on the highway and that intown autonomous driving will be available by 2020. That’s 5 years sooner than Klaus Froehlich, BMW’s R&D chief says self-driving in the city will be possible.

The big question is, how much will all this goodness cost? If Nissan can bring the car to market for a price close to the current car, that will be a stunning achievement.