A few roadbumps are causing Nissan to rethink its initial sales target for the all new 2011 Nissan Leaf electric vehicle. Throughout most of the year, the automaker was confident it would sell all 20,000 units allocated for the United States and now it’s likely only half that amount will make it out of Nissan showrooms.
In a report by Automotive News, Nissan vice president of sales Al Castignetti estimates 10,000 to 12,000 first model year Leafs will be sold. The sales hiccups could be traced as far back to before the Leaf even made it to Nissan showrooms. "It's different than anything we've ever done, launching the car in three global markets at the same time," Castignetti said. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy."
How Nissan has gone about courting potential customers has been as unique as the car itself -- those interested must submit a $99 deposit through an online reservation system, which started back in April 2010. Nissan stopped accepted reservations last September when it received deposits for the 20,000 allocated units, but less than half are resulting in sales.
According to Nissan spokesperson Katherine Zachary, only 46 percent of reservations are being sold “for many different reasons.” Zachary points out that Nissan has received reservations from residents who live in cities where the Leaf isn’t available. The Leaf was only available in seven states when it first went on sale in December of 2010. Nissan is slowly rolling out sales in other states and expects to be completed by 2012. The final production Leaf may not be appealing to prospective buyers, and it's also possible that consumers are intimidated or are unable to install the required charging station in their home. Then there’s the limited (but growing) network of public charging stations where owners can plug in away from home; additionally, Nissan halted production for a few weeks following complications from the March 11 disaster in Japan.
Regardless, Nissan still plans to mass produce the Leaf in its Smyrna, Tennessee factory following a $1.6 billion project to add lithium ion battery pack production to the plant. The automaker says production could start in 2013 with an annual capacity of 150,000 units.
In the meantime, the sales complications haven’t slowed Nissan’s attempt to put the Leaf in the spotlight. In April, the automaker’s performance arm NISMO unveiled the Leaf RC, a racetrack version of the passenger car complete with a low-slung carbon-fiber body and mid-mounted powertrain. Nissan has already begun testing the Leaf Nismo RC, which could be the birth of quiet and emissions free racing. Nissan has also caused some controversy with a recent commercial that focuses on the gas-powered generator used in the Chevrolet Volt, the Leaf’s main competitor.
Source: Automotive News (subscription required)