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TheStreet Open House

Nissan Turns Up the Heat in the Electric Car Race

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I had an opportunity to speak with Nissan (NSANY) executives at the New York Auto Show and I came away with what I believe are some important updates and nuances on Nissan's electric car plans.

That's important because Nissan claims to have 47% of the world's electric car market today, with over 110,000 sold to date.

As background, I wrote back on March 27 on the subject of the upcoming estimated 135-mile range Nissan Leaf. I also expanded on my views of the electric car market, in terms of cars priced below $70,000 and available before 2017.

So what did I find out that I think is new, important and incremental to the Nissan electric car story?

1. Rapid battery improvement.

As of 2010, Nissan thought it would be updating its battery technology in existing cars -- practically speaking, the Leaf for now -- once every three to four years. It now says that it will be updating its battery technology once a year.

This is consistent with my article from March 27: Nissan has a battery improvement for the Leaf in store later this year. Nissan did not say precisely how the battery will be improved this time, or by how much capacity -- and therefore range -- would be improved.

Nissan did say that once every few years we should expect a step function in battery improvement that would be a lot more than the single-digit percentage incremental version. Thus far the improvements to the Leaf battery have been in the single digits each time.

From this I draw the conclusion that my recent prediction of an estimated 135-mile Nissan Leaf to arrive by year-end 2014 is looking as realistic as ever!

2. View on scale economics.

Nissan said it intends to continue to be the volume leader in electric cars for as far as the eye can see. No other company will be able to build factories large enough to match it in scale for building EVs. As a result, it will be the people's car for EVs as it can deliver a lot better value for the mass market under $30,000 per car -- as well as scale up for more expensive cars.

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