Nissan has long been a leader in electric vehicle sales, despite the fact that there is really only one EV on the market: the functional-if-uninspiring Nissan Leaf hatchback. That changed today with the introduction of a new medium-sized SUV with a range of 300 miles called the Ariya.
First revealed as a concept last year, the Ariya is expected to go on sale in Japan in mid-2021, followed by the US and Canada later in the year. Prices start around $ 40,000, which is only a few thousand dollars more than the current average sale price of a vehicle in the US. Buyers of Nissan electric and hybrid vehicles are still eligible for the full $ 7,500 federal tax credit and various government incentives, which, depending on where people live, can cut costs by up to $ 10,000 in the U.S.
The Ariya was revealed against the background of corporate turmoil, executive turnover, strongly decreasing sales, and pandemic cost savings at Nissan. The arrest and subsequent escape of Carlos Ghosn, former president of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance, dominated the headlines for much of 2019, casting the spotlight on a car manufacturer that appeared to be at war with itself.
As such, the Ariya is the company’s first major new product launch in the post-Ghosn era – and an opportunity to turn a new blade (pun intended). Nissan says the new electric crossover is an “important milestone” in the company’s four-year plan “to achieve sustainable growth, financial stability and profitability.”
But enough business intrigue; let’s take a look at the specifications.
Battery, performance and range
The drivetrain of the Nissan Ariya really sets it apart from the Leaf. Rather than opting for a simple front-wheel drive setup, the Ariya will come in multiple configurations, including a two-wheel drive version and a twin-electric setup that allows for all-wheel performance, making Nissan the “e-4ORCE” (because everything needs a ridiculous and confusing brand name).
“I’m not afraid to say that this is probably the most technologically advanced car Nissan has made in its history,” Ivan Espinosa, Nissan’s Senior Vice President, told reporters on Tuesday. “So we put all our resources and know-how behind this car.”
Espinosa said Nissan learned what it learned from the GT-R sports car’s torque distribution system and applied it to the development of Ariya’s dual engine setup, including the car’s movement, speed and handling.
You can also choose from two battery sizes: a 63 kWh battery and a 87 kWh battery. Nissan claims that the two-wheel drive version can achieve a range of up to 300 miles, although the automaker has not yet made the Ariya available to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the European Union’s Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) for independent verification.
That said, the Nissan LEAF SL Plus 2020 has an EPA certified range of 215 miles per charge, so presumably it wouldn’t take too long for the car battery manufacturer, China’s Automotive Energy Supply Corporationto drive that up to 300 miles.
Nissan does not disclose how much time it takes to charge the Ariya. Charging time for electric vehicles can be a bottleneck for potential buyers, especially for vehicles that take longer than 15-20 minutes to reach 80 percent capacity. This will be the specification to look forward to as Nissan gets closer to production.
Nissan supports the Ariya with the latest version of the car manufacturer’s advanced driver assistance system, ProPilot Assist 2.0. The original ProPilot was a partially automated Level 2 system that allowed the vehicle to control speed, distance from other cars and keep the car in its intended lane with minimal driver input. Cameras detect lane markings at highway speeds, then adaptive cruise control, lane-keep and blind spot detection systems keep you in that lane until you intentionally change lanes.
With the Ariya, ProPilot Assist gets an active driver monitoring system to enable hands-free driving on highways. Nissan first announced its plans to upgrade ProPilot Assist to drive hands-free last year. The only other automaker to offer a similar system at the moment is GM’s Super Cruise. Ford has said it will introduce its own hands-free system with the electric Mustang Mach-E, which will go on sale in the second half of 2021.
Previously, Nissan had included ProPilot Assist in the Leaf, the top-selling Rogue SUV and the Altima at under $ 30,000. With the addition of the Ariya, Nissan has established itself as a leader in offering partially automated driving in affordable, mass-market vehicles.
The Ariya looks much sportier than Nissan’s other crossover, the Rogue, thanks to a low, wide stance. And the vehicle lacks many of the sharp, angular lines seen on many of the Japanese car maker’s vehicles, opting for a softer, more family-friendly look. Despite being technically progressive, the Ariya lacks many of the quirky (and somewhat ridiculous) blossoms that Nissan likes to stuff into its concept vehicles, such as a virtual assistant who is also a koi fish, or a fake engine sound that sounds like a musical version of THX’s deep note.
Still, it’s an EV, so it should have ultra-thin headlamps à la EV startups like Byton and Faraday Future, and brake lights that extend across the rear like Tesla’s Cyber Truck. And the solid faux grille probably won’t be as divided as the Ford Mustang Mach-E, although it may still put some buyers off looking for something familiar.
This is not an overly designed car; in any case, it looks extremely normal, which can be a relief for an EV. Most EV designs tend to lean too heavily on the automaker’s idea of “the future,” but may appear false. The Ariya’s wheels certainly stand out, but nothing else about this vehicle screams ‘electric,’ which can help lure potential buyers who are considering making the switch from a gas-powered vehicle.
The photos Nissan shared with media outlets show off the vehicle in a copper tone, but Alfonso Albaisa, senior vice president of global design, said the Ariya would come in “candy red,” “deep blue,” and a number of other colors arrangements.
Inside the vehicle are two 12.3-inch horizontal screens, one behind the steering column and the other in the center of the dashboard. The screens don’t float above the dashboard like Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y, but are oriented in a wave-like shape that seems easy to reach and operate.
Not everything is controlled via these two screens. The car’s HVAC system is accessed through a set of capacitive haptic switches integrated into the wood paneling below the center screen that gives a similar feel to mechanical switches by vibrating when touched.
There is a lot of legroom, typical for a car without an internal combustion engine. That said, it is a family car designed for five people. “It’s a really unique feeling when you’re in the car,” Espinosa said.
The Ariya comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wireless connectivity. And it will be Nissan’s first model to include over-the-air firmware updates to upgrade the car’s infotainment system, electrical and electronic architecture, chassis, climate system and EV settings.
Car dealers are generally wary of OTA updates because they fear getting out of the lucrative service and maintenance process. Basically, if you can fix your car with an OTA update, you don’t have to take it to the dealer that often, and that means less money for them. But car buyers seem to like them, as far as reminding them of their smartphone’s constantly updated operating systems.
It’s a tough time for automakers, especially as they try to resume production that was interrupted by the coronavirus and are now facing rising infection rates in many parts of the US. Nissan has had to shut down its facilities and workers made redundant in response to the crisis.
Against that backdrop, automakers are still struggling to sell electric vehicles, especially in the US, where gas is sold for just over $ 2 a gallon. The tax credit helps mitigate the blow to many consumers, but Nissan will no longer be eligible as it approaches 200,000 electric cars sold. After that, the credit begins to run down and the value proposition on a $ 40,000 vehicle that takes an unknown amount of time to charge and can’t travel as far with a single charge as a Tesla begins to dwindle.
Fortunately, Nissan has a lot of experience in selling EVs that it can apply to the Ariya. And with its unique engine configuration and normal, but far from boring design, it has just as much of a chance of success as the Leaf – if not more.