While the Nissan Leaf electric car hasn't sold as well as hoped, the company is doubling down on its most advanced model.
These photos show a prototype for a new, less expensive model of the 2013 Nissan Leaf being tested in Arizona yesterday.
The company will start assembling Leaf electric cars in its Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant in December--on the same line as its Altima and Maxima sedans.
That will automatically cut the cost of the Leaf, which is now imported from Japan and hence suffers from the low exchange rate of the U.S. dollar against the Japanese yen.
The prototype 2013 hatchback in the images has several modifications from today's lowest-cost model, the Leaf SV, which starts at $35,200.
For one thing, it dispenses with alloy wheels in favor of cheaper steel wheels with plastic wheel covers.
For another, the elongated headlights--while they still retain their distinctive shape--no longer use costly white Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Instead, they feature less expensive High-Intensity Discharge bulbs.
The cruise control appears to be gone from the prototype as well, and while the center display screen is covered, there may be further changes there as well.
Industry reports say some elements of the battery-electric powertrain have been combined and made smaller, again with an eye toward cutting cost.
The first production Leaf electric cars will roll off the lines in Tennessee in mid-December, according to Nissan sources. They should reach dealerships early next year.
Prices and final specifications haven't yet been set for the updated 2013 Leaf range, but you can expect them before the end of this year.