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Big news for EVs: Nissan pulling back, GM stepping… up?

Big news today for the electric vehicle market, from two fronts….

Nissan postpones launch of 60kWh Leaf E-Plus

Following the ouster and arrest of their CEO, Carlos Ghosn, Nissan has postponed the launch of the much anticipated Leaf E-Plus.

Why does this matter? Not merely will the much larger pack greatly extend its range; the reported $36k E-Plus is designed to be a significant modernization in all aspects of the design of the Leaf, to catch up to its competition. This includes:

  • 225 miles nominal range (supposed 215 miles real-world range)
  • 0-60 in 7,5s instead of 8,5 seconds (Bolt = 6,1s; Model 3 = 3,3 — 5,6s; 64 kWh Kona = 7,6s)
  • AC charge power of 11kW (vs. 6,6kW)
  • DC charge power of ~100kW (vs <50kW)
  • Cooled battery

The last two are the most significant changes reported thusfar, and the most important.  The uncooled battery on existing Leafs has always limited its maximum DC charge rate and caused a higher cell degradation rate versus its competition. The 2018 Leaf has additionally suffered from #Rapidgate, where overheating would cut the already low charge powers in half on road trips.  The new cooled battery would enable the Leaf to road trip — where high-power compatible charging stations are available – nearly as fast as a Hyundai Kona or Kia Niro, significantly faster than a Bolt, and about 1/2 to 2/3rds** as fast as a Model 3 RWD Aero.  Admittedly, such higher-power charging stations are rare globally, particularly in America (where only Tesla has a large network of 100+kW charging  stations) – but the more that vehicles that can use higher-power DC stations are available, the more that such stations will be built in the coming years.

While Nissan has stated that the delay is to avoid having the launch be distracted by the troubles of their former CEO, supporters of Ghosn — who view him as having been a driving force for Nissan’s electrification plans, and have called his arrest and ouster a hatchet job — have expressed concern that this was a final slap in the face. Nissan’s relationship with Ghosn has long been strained, due to the lopsided impositions on Nissan during the formation of the Renault-Nissan alliance.

No new timeline for the launch of the E-Plus has been given.

** V1 CCS stations — assuming Nissan switches to CCS — are limited to 200A, and thus around 70-80kW for vehicles with typical voltages. V2 stations (max 500A, cooled cables) would be required to reach the full potential. Additionally, charge rates (mph) are not linear with power, but also have to factor in drivecycle efficiency.

GM announces massive plant closures and layoffs; plans to refocus on electric vehicles and autonomy

When trading of a company’s stock gets frozen, you know that the announcement that caused it is big news. And that’s exactly what happened with GM today.

GM is cutting 15% of its salaried workforce, closing factories in Michigan, Ohio, Maryland and Canada, and killing off several passenger cars. While GM’s finances have been uncertain (although not to the extent of Ford’s), this move will majorly shore up their balance sheet.  And what do they plan to use that money for? Ostensibly, for: “a new business model that embraces electrified and automated vehicles, many of which will be shared rather than owned”.

GM’s stock surged on the announcement, and at the time of writing is up 6%.

This is great news. While the Chevy Bolt (Opel Ampera-E in Europe) has range, it’s been a severe laggard in sales; for the past three months it’s averaged a tenth the sales of the (currently well more expensive) Tesla Model 3. On the face of it, it has a number of things going for it, including a 238 mile EPA-combined range and an acceleration that beats all of its non-Tesla competitors; however, slow charging and econoboxy styling have limited its sales in markets where its available. But more critically, availability has been limited — easy to acquire in ZEV states, much more difficult in non-ZEV states, and with the Ampera-E being practically a no-show in most European markets. This classifies it as a “compliance car”, suggesting that GM has struggled to achieve profitability on the vehicle.

If GM sticks with its stated goal, however — and this is a big “If” – it will now have the funds to make profitable, mass-appeal electric vehicles. Because at the base of it, profitable EVs all come down to money invested. New EV platforms are expensive. Battery plants are expensive. R&D is expensive. Infrastructure is expensive. The larger the scale you tool for, the lower your unit costs. If GM puts forth serious money towards this effort, they could be taking a large leap forward over the next several years.

There’s one dark cloud to this GM news, however. One of the to-be-shuttered plants is the Detroit Hamtramck plant.  This happens to be the plant where the Chevy Volt is manufactured.  GM has now confirmed that this is the end of the Volt; its production will be terminated in March.

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