The new Nissan Leaf will be with us by the end of the year, but is the new model going to be enough to keep the best-selling EV of all time on top of the heap?

Even that small statistic will come as a shock to all but the most seasoned EV watchers. It’s largely due to the fact that the Leaf has been with us since December 2010, when the first 50 hit the road. In January, the total number of Leaf sales hit 252,000 and the sales are actually still going strong.

In a way, that’s absolutely insane, because the current Leaf is a total antique. Indeed, we listed it as one of our EVs to avoid and the only reason it’s selling in such big numbers are probably the heavy discounts. One group buy in Texas got the price down to $11,500, with Nissan’s full blessing.

The Nissan Leaf is still selling well

But, cost aside, the facts are still the facts. The Leaf is flying in the face of logic and doing well. The sales took a huge hit in June last year and were down 53% at one point, but Nissan found a way to get things back on track.

The only plug-in EV to outsell the Leaf in 2016 was the Tesla Model S, which sold 50, 935 compared to the Leaf’s 49,818 sales, according to EV Volumes. That represents a 7% increase in sales for a car that is so off the pace it’s almost laughable.

When Nissan launched the Leaf, it was a revelation. Yes, the range was a paltry 73 miles from the 24kWh battery, which extended to 84 when the Japanese marque detuned the motor and took 20lb/ft of torque off the headline figures. In 2016, an upgrade to the motor brought a 107-mile range.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. Batteries degrade and Nissan claims the ‘glide path’ of the Leaf’s battery is about 70-80% capacity after five years. Drivers covering serious miles in hotter climes have found the degradation is more serious, though, and after just one year of ownership, some people in Arizona are getting just 60 miles from their Leaf.

The Nissan Leaf, an icon and an EV pioneer

Autumn has set on the Leaf, technically

Almost every mainstream EV is streets ahead now. Even the likes of the Ford Focus Electric, Kia Soul and VW e-Golf have left the Leaf trailing in its wake and yet the sales keep coming. Keen pricing is obviously a factor, but the current Leaf is a dinosaur and it’s honestly hard to understand why people keep buying a model that is so long in the tooth.

Nissan had sold 275,000 EVs at the start of the year and 91.6% of them were Leafs. America has bought more than 100,000, Japanese customers accounted for more than 70,000 sales in October 2016 and Norway had 27,500 Leafs on the road by December 2016.

The new model has to be a huge step forward

Nissan has been cagey about the details of the replacement, but we’re on the cusp of a new dawn in the EV world. The Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3 and VW’s I.D. are set to rewrite the rule book on affordable electric vehicles and the new car cannot just be a step forward. It has to be a total revolution and that could be why we’ve been left hanging on for so long.

We thought we were going to get a new Leaf in 2016, then 2017 and finally it’s on the way in September. The general consensus is that Nissan had settled on a 150-mile range that got blown out the water by the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. If the rumors are true, Nissan decided to go back to the drawing board.

Now we know that the range will be up to 248 miles, on the Japanese test schedule at least, but seeing as the Japanese regulators list the current Leaf as a 174-mile car, compared to the 107-mile EPA rating, that is not saying very much.

So far the real details are scarce and Nissan has even offered a series of sweetheart deals to keep current leaseholders on the hook for the new car. But it refuses to let go of the full specs.

Electrek

A range of battery packs?

The rumor is that there will be a series of Tesla-style battery-pack options that seriously shouldn’t dip below a 30kWh option if the Leaf wants to compete in any meaningful way with the competition.

Nissan has kept the design under wraps, too. The company has teased us with a variety of concept cars, including the 2015 Sway Concept, and some of those cues are clear to see on the heavily-disguised prototypes that have been spotted out in the wild. Nissan is determined to keep the final design a mystery right now, but we can clearly see that it’s an evolution of the original design and that does not bode well.

The Chevy Bolt is pretty standard, but this is a car that’s going toe-to-toe with the more seductive Tesla Model 3 and what we’ve seen so far doesn’t look like a world-beater.

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An autonomous halfway house?

Then there’s the tech. Apparently, the new Leaf will come with a basic autonomous system that allows the car to take over on the highway, but we’ve had that for a while and it’s hardly groundbreaking.

Nissan has never really competed on performance, aside from the insane GT-R, and the Leaf was never a performance EV. We don’t expect that to change. So, apart from a solid range and a competitive price point, the new Leaf looks to be short on USPs.

We can’t really see how the new model is shaping up to be a massive success. But then we can’t really see why the current model is selling in big numbers either.

Could fleet sales be the answer?

Perhaps the Nissan brand carries enough cache to carry the new Leaf to huge sales. Perhaps Nissan and partner company Renault have the financial clout to offer better lease and fleet deals than the likes of Tesla, although GM could be an issue.And perhaps Nissan still has a surprise or three with the new model.

“When we deliver this car to customers, we’re very confident that the all-new Leaf is going to exceed their expectations in terms of range, tech, design, and value,” said Brian Maragno, who is leading the sales charge in North America.

We kind of hope it does, because the Leaf is one of the driving forces of the whole EV movement, it’s still the greatest selling EV of all time and we’d love to see it flying the flag and taking the fight to Tesla and Chevy.

Can it retain its crown as the undisputed king of the EV world? That’s another question entirely, but there’s a sting in the tail as well.

There’s a new car on the way

Nissan has revealed it is working on a Leaf-sized car that will cover up to 341 miles (550km) on a charge and it plans to bring that car to market in 2020. So it could be that the new Leaf we’ve been waiting for, the all-important contender, is actually just a stop-gap car to keep us going until the next generation EV arrives.

It’s an awful lot of work for a bridging car, but then Nissan could simply have made the internal decision to do the best it could with the current set-up and focus its efforts on the next generation. So, the Leaf could get one last injection of range and performance to give the wily veteran a fighting chance on the open market, at a suitable price point.

When the new comes, the Leaf could be retired from active service and take its rightful place in the EV Hall of Fame. It’s the  way we see it playing out right now.

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