When Nissan Motor Co. unveiled its all-electric Leaf in 2010, the Japanese carmaker found itself uncharacteristically leading the automotive pack.
Capable of traveling 100 miles on a single charge, the car leapfrogged those from most rivals who were focused on developing hybrids—such as Toyota’s Prius—or simply squeezing more mileage out of their conventional gasoline-powered models. That head start helped turn the Leaf into the world’s best-selling electric vehicle, with almost 300,000 cars sold since its introduction.
Fast-forward seven years, and the Leaf’s early lead seems set to vanish.
These days, shoppers for EVs are generally drawn to a different automaker: Tesla Inc. That brand’s global cachet and the rock star status of co-founder Elon Musk have made its name almost synonymous with electric cars.
More than 450,000 people have put down deposits on Tesla’s new Model 3, with a range more than double the Leaf’s and a $35,000 starting price—about $5,000 more than the Leaf. In an attempt to defend its position in the EV market, Nissan on Sept. 6 in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo—and simultaneously in Las Vegas—is set to unveil a Leaf with snazzier styling and greater range between charges, with a base price analysts expect to be about the same as the current car’s $30,680 starting price. It remains to be seen whether Nissan can slow the momentum of the Model 3 or even General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Bolt.
“It will be tougher for the new Leaf than for the first generation, as it’s no longer the only mass-market EV, or monopolizing public attention,” says Tatsuo Yoshida, a senior analyst at Sawakami Asset Management Inc. “Tesla’s brand is more alluring even if Nissan comes close to its technology.”