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Nissan to launch new electric vehicle model from April

Singapore

JAPANESE car maker Nissan will be launching a new version of one of its electric vehicle models in its coming fiscal year in more than 60 markets including Singapore, a move that could help the Republic towards its goal of halving its carbon emissions.

On Tuesday, Nissan announced that the new, 100 per cent electric Nissan Leaf, featuring autonomous driving capabilities and a bigger battery capacity for longer-distance travels, will go on sale in seven countries - Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.

This will start from sometime in April this year. The company plans to launch one million new units of electric vehicles by 2022 globally, but didn't give a breakdown as to how many units will be made available to Singapore.

Deliveries of the new Nissan Leaf began in Japan in October last year, followed by the US and Canada in January this year. The car will go on sale in Europe this month.

Speaking to The Business Times on the sidelines of the Nissan Futures event, Vincent Wijnen, head of marketing & sales, Asia and Oceania, Nissan, said: "We've taken a lot more orders than we anticipated. From a production capacity point of view, we cannot launch the car in every market at the same time. There's also a practical consideration. One is making sure the product is ready for the market ... secondly, making sure when the car goes on sale, we can deliver the car as well."

The new Nissan Leaf will cost about 10 to 20 per cent more than a conventional car when it is launched here for sale, and the price is subject to factors such as classification of the vehicle and taxation. The overall maintenance cost, however, is cheaper than for a conventional car as electric vehicles do not run on petrol, a costly bugbear for car owners.

Based on a study done by Frost & Sullivan in January this year in six South-east Asian countries - Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines - one in three consumers planning to buy a car are open to the idea of purchasing an electric vehicle, but 55 per cent of respondents are held back from eventually buying it due to safety concerns.

On how Nissan is tackling this, Mr Wijnen said that the company "tests the vehicles in deep water" and ensures that no major incident has occurred from the sale of more than 300,000 units of the Nissan Leaf since it was first launched in 2010.

For this initiative, the availability of charging stations in Singapore is a challenge that is still a "work-in-progress", Goh Chee Kiong, Singapore Power's head of strategic development, told BT on the sidelines of the event.

"Unlike places where you can charge at home, for Singapore, more than 90 per cent of the population live in high-rise apartments and they don't have charging points in car parks," he said during a panel discussion on Tuesday.

Mr Goh pointed out that the lack of charging points will influence drivers not to buy an electric vehicle eventually, adding that these vehicles can halve carbon emissions in Singapore.

One major operator for providing charging points in Singapore is BlueSG, a subsidiary of the Bollore Group in France, which will roll out 2,000 charging points in areas such as business parks and shopping malls over the next few years, but only about 400 can be used by the public.

"That itself is a good start (but) it's not enough. That's where we think there's a role for more players to come in to provide charging points," Mr Goh said.

On who will likely be the first here to adopt more electric vehicles, he said: "We believe the first phase of (electric vehicle) adoption in Singapore will be taxis (and) private car hire companies. There's a strong desire by many fleet operators to consider (electric vehicles)."