Nissan Looking For Answers Regarding Leaf Sales (Or Lack Thereof)


Nissan’s big electric car bet isn’t paying off, and the Japanese automaker knows it. After yet another month of sales failing to sell 1,000 Nissan Leaf EVs, executives at Nissan have given up its modest goal of selling 20,000 EVs in the U.S. this year.

Instead, Nissan is focusing on an outreach program with current customers, as well as those who showed interest but didn’t buy a Leaf EV to figure out where they went wrong.

A recent survey sent out to Nissan Leaf owners and handraisers (those who are interested in EVs, but haven’t bought them) asks questions about price point, battery range, and concerns with purchasing EVs.

The survey also asks if the addition of a car-sharing service for Leaf owners to use for long range trips would make owning an EV more appealing. It seems Nissan is pretty desperate to get Leaf sales back on track, and the automaker has reason to be concerned.

Even before battery troubles in Arizona led to a mini-rebellion among EV owners, Nissan Leaf sales have been pretty awful all year in the U.S. In fact, through the first three quarters of 2012, Nissan has sold just 5,212 units, a decline of almost 28% versus last year. That is a steep decline for a car that Nissan put a lot of money and effort into, including a new factory in Tennessee with an annual capacity of 150,000 units per year.

While Leaf sales worldwide have broken more than 40,000 units, that is only two-thirds of the 60,000 sales Nissan expected. It turns out an expensive electric car with a limited driving range has a very limited appeal among customers. It doesn’t help that the European economy is killing car sales, or that Americans in general are skeptical of electric vehicles.

What can Nissan do to turn their fortunes around? Or are EVs looking more and more like a dead-end technology?

Sources: Green Car Reports | LeftLane News

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he’s running, because he’s one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • When I worked in public relations for a large holding company of electric utility companies, I had a 1995 Ford Taurus company car and a 1994 Dodge Electric Caravan, converted at a cost of $120,000. I drove it around as a demo unit to get folks used to the idea that things were changing and one day, they would be making decisions as to buying a vehicle that ran on gasoline, electricity, hydrogen or other sources…

    I named my Dodge Caravan “Ivan the E-van” and took it to schools and gave programs to students. Ivan was a big hit with kids, but adults never bothered to give it a second look.

    The one problem I had with Ivan (and I took it to communities as far as 300 miles away, on a trailer) was that I was lucky to get 35 miles on a charge, so I had to be very careful and plan my trips almost as religiously as when I flew small single engine airplanes across parts of the United States… A good pilot knows he/she has to plan stops for gas at airports, and a good driver of an electrically powered vehicle was in the “same boat” so to speak in regard to planning trips.

    When I first saw the Nissan LEAF, I quickly ruled it out because of “range anxiety” and I purchased a Volt in early June… Here it is nearly mid-October, and I still haven’t stopped at a gas station to buy any gasoline for my Volt. But I have the satisfaction of knowing, if an emergency came up, I could get the heck out of Dodge in my Chevrolet (and drive from Texas to Dodge City, Kansas) but I sure as shootin’ couldn’t to that in a LEAF. And thus the reason I think the LEAF will wilt and be gone, unless Nissan puts a range extender in it like my Volt has…

    But there are still reasons why even if the LEAF had a “range extender” in it that I would go with the Volt.

  • Temk

    150 mile range. Price. It takes a while for people to analyze what they’ve been doing to know that an EV will fit most of their driving needs. It would fit most of mine, but not all. It’s not as though I need a dumptruck or cement truck, it’s that I actually do need 150 range so that I won’t be plugging in every other day.

  • ASG

    I filled out the survey as a former ‘interested party.’ I test drove the Leaf over a year ago and came away impressed. Although the 70mi range was not enough for my wife and I to eliminate a vehicle. Then I was able to ride along on a Tesla Model S test drive a few months back. I am no longer impressed with the Leaf. It’s an entry level vehicle with limited range. I’m now a Model S reservation holder because it’s a much better vehicle and the 200+mi range allows us to replace an ICE with an EV. It’s expensive, yes, but I view it as paying $80K for a $60K vehicle; investing the extra $20K in EV tech and US mfg.! I hope to get my Model S by next summer.

  • Arthur buonamia

    I have bought two leaf’s and await the 2013 soon. I understand the failure of leaf sales is related to a fundamental reality of the diminishing petite bourgeois class in America. The proletariat is unable to buy the leaf due to
    The loss of skilled jobs, stagnant wages over thirty years and the outsourcing of factory jobs to a slave economy. It’s limited range is a great hindrance coupled with a lack of charging station infrastructure throughout the country. To sell the leaf will require a range of 125, the ability to increase the range by buying additional batteries, offering zero interest financing and retrofitting 2011, 2012 leafs to the faster chargers of 6.6 kw.
    This will help maintain the loyalty of the first leaf buyers. There should also be an intro price of 25,000 for the sv, and 29,000 for the sl. Not doing this will see the termination of the leaf and a major victory for the reactionary bourgeois class sector concentrated in fossil fuels.

  • Marc P.

    Pure EV’s time as a mass market product has not come, not by a long shot, at least not with current technological limits and prices, not to mention gas prices which, while remaining high, aren’t astronomical.

    Sorry, but it’s not rocket science…

  • Michael Bachrach

    I own a 2012 Leaf. I am very happy with the car. It drives smooth as silk. The absence of vibration is very soothing. The car is very comfortable. The cost to fuel is 1/3 that of our Prius. The range of the car is fine with me. I put around 1500 miles a month on it. Yes it does take planning but that is not a big problem. I could never recommend that someone buy the car because I am very concerned about the longevity of the battery. There are maybe six instruments in the car that supposedly give the driver information about range, efficiency and battery health. I have felt that Nissan wanted to sell a 100 mile car and the only way to do this was to put in all of these instruments that deceive. 1) The numerical range indicator begins (80% charge) at around 95 miles and drops off at a rate of 2 miles to each 1 driven. 2) The battery capacity gauge has 12 blocks. All of mine are showing and this would make you think that the car’s battery has 100% capacity while in fact it might have 86%. Funny that the first bar is worth 15% and not 1/12th. 3) There is an average miles per kilowatt number. Mine shows almost 6 miles per kilowatt. With a 21.5 usable kwh battery I should be able to travel 129 miles. I don’t think that is possible. 4) The instant miles per killowatt is bouncing around from 2 to 8 miles per killowatt. I don’t know how this does me any good. I have to keep it off this page because all of that movement is distracting. 5) The granularity of the historical average miles per killowatt is so bad that even though it is not bouncing around you would need a micrometer to get any value from it. 6) The battery temperature gauge has never moved. I have viewed it after a cold night (Florida) and after parking on hot pavement for a while and it is always the same. I was concerned about my battery so I went to Nissan to have it checked. They gave me a piece of paper with bars and stars. This lack of actual percentages is useless so I asked the serviceman at the dealership and he knew nothing. I called Nissan customer service and he knew nothing. I asked Nissan customer service to ask the technical people at Nissan and he said they would not tell me anything. I hope my car lasts a long time but I feel as if Nissan wants me to be happy for as long as it lasts. I will know when I have problems when I can’t get where I need to go.

    Back to the Prius. For what the Prius is supposed to be it is the greatest car around. It is not nearly as nice to drive as the Leaf but that is not what it was designed to do. It was designed to be nice transportation that delivers 50mpg and will drive for at least 200,000 miles. The Prius is doing well because Prius owners recommend it. As of now I can not recommend the Leaf. Nissan needs to get the Leaf owners on their side and I don’t know if that is the case.

  • The marketing for the Leaf was about the worst it could be. The best way to sell these cars is to interview satisfied owners not show a wayward Polar Bear. The marketing for the Leaf was about the worst it could be.

    I’ve owned my Leaf since December of 2011. After nearly 10,000 miles I absolutely love this car. We drive it more than our gas car by far. We installed Solar panels on our home so I take great joy in no longer enriching the oil or coal industries for my transportation needs. The Leaf is a pure joy to drive.

    Nissan must do a better job of marketing these wonderful cars. It’s that simple.

  • Nick

    @Sterling Did you have the NiCd or NiFe batteries in your TEvan?

    I’ve also owned one, and I could get 50 miles on a 12 year old pack with 20,000 miles on it. I had the NiCd version.

    Did you ever drive the EPIC?

    • Ivan had NiCad batteries. When I went to work for Central and Southwest based in Dallas (now absorbed by another electric conglomerate)
      Ivan was being used by meter readers in Abilene, Texas. I was shocked (pardon the pun) that a high tech research vehicle like this was not being used in a high profile capacity and I got it assigned to me to use in public relations. When I took it out to show to groups, I always had the AC running, the radio and everything, and thus 35 miles was my “comfort zone” and being a pilot, we are brain-washed (and mandated) to have a reserve. Ivan probably could have gone 45 miles, but I couldn’t afford to let it deplete and be stuck on the side of a road being concerned that one of the TV stations would see it… and I did show it to every TV station I could (on Ivan’s terms…)

  • Grant

    There has been almost zero marketing of the Leaf in the US. It appears that Nissan was slow rolling sales in the US on purpose (they are probably making almost nothing on them due to the Yen-Dollar exchange rate), and will start to ramp things up when the 2013 models rolls off the line at Smyrna. I’ve had my Leaf for a year (9k miles) and think it’s great. A small amount of planning is well worth never having to use gasoline again. I’m starting to see charging stations pop up everywhere so the future looks bright for EVs.

  • I’m sure many people can cope with the limited range of the Leaf. what that limited range actually is could be one reason why sales have stagnated.

    Sales reps are notorious for telling the odd white lie or 10. But considering many people are watching the development of EV cars and sales, one of the last things Nissan need is lies from their sales staff. It’s no different from Government fuel figures for ICE cars not being achieved – but with an EV those extra few miles can mean the difference between being stranded or not.

    Price? Austerity measures, job losses, pay freezes. Not exactly a recipe for buying any new car – let alone one that is VERY expensive for what it does.

    Battery life? Well recent news of owners reporting problems will not do sales any good, period.

    Overall battery technology was always going to be a major issue for Nissan and EV’s in general. But add a major global financial downturn and you have the end of EV’s as we know them.

  • Tim Drager

    My Leaf represents a Leap forward in automotive technology. I’m tired of driving around 100 year-old technology reciprocating rattle traps. The Leaf is to driving like a jet is to flying. Love it, especially the 132 MPG equivalent.

  • Andy C

    Buying a car is hard enough. Buy a car that costs more to maintain, uses more fuel or wears out more quicly than expected and there are real consequences for the family budget. When time is an issue, an old car suddenly dies, people feel that adding a pure electric vehicle into the research mix is impossible.

    We started with a test drive at a Nissan LEAF promotional event. The car performed. Driving was fun. But it cost so much… We weren’t ready for a new car… The range fit our commute, but would charging be a hassle… Would the batteries last… Would a new model render our car obsolete… Could we upgrade the car, add batteries, swap in better components…

    If we hadn’t enjoyed that first test drive so much, we wouldn’t have had the fortitude for the research and contemplation that followed. We had no friend LEAF owners to talk to, so we followed owners on the mynissanleaf forum daily. We built spreadsheets to model all of the current and long-term costs of our two gas cars vs projected LEAF costs. We read every independent review we could find. We visited 6 different LEAF dealers, asking every question again and again.

    In the end, selling the least efficient of our gas-fueled cars, taking advantage of the rebates, and driving the LEAF for 7 years put us, conservatively at break-even, economically. In the utmost of conservatism, we assumed the LEAF would be worth $0, nothing, in 7 years (obsolescence, dead battery, whatever), and we still break even in 7 years. If we assume a reasonable depreciation trend, we break even much sooner.

    After 6 months of research, we made the purchase. In one year of driving, we’ve put more miles on the LEAF than expected. In Year 1, we bought less than 15 tanks of gas for all car usage (including vacation rental). In the year prior to LEAF, we bought 76 tanks of gas.

    We are now confident that, financially, we made a great choice, a conservative choice. Moreover, we love driving the car. Everyday.

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