The Nissan Leaf has been the flagship of technical innovation for the Japanese automaker, hailed as the world’s first mass-market electric car. Even after its 2011 introduction, it’s still the only all-electric vehicle that’s had a modicum of worldwide success. And yet, it’s greatly underperforming through 2012, says Nissan’s vice president of product planning Andy Palmer.
Through the first nine months of 2012, Nissan has sold 5,212 Leaf electric cars in the U.S. with a goal of selling 20,000 in 2012 and doubling its sales in the fiscal year running from March 2012 to March 2013. That’s down 27.6 percent from last year at this time.
“You can do the math—we’re falling short,” said Palmer in front of reporters earlier this week. “It’s a subject of contining discussion at the level of the executive committee.
“We haven’t given up yet.”
Nissan says high costs with producing the all-electric Leaf have been prohibitive to profitability, as the yen has gained ground on the dollar in international currency trading. He also said marketing for the car has been lousy. Both are being addressed, especially the production problem.
Nissan is expanding its facilities in Smyrna, Tennessee, to build the 2013 Nissan Leaf domestically. According to plans, it will be able to make as many as 150,000 electric cars a year and 200,000 batteries annually. The $1.7 billion investment was made with funds from the U.S. Department of Energy out of the same batch of financing that gave the world the Fisker Karma and Tesla Model S.
Nissan will be using its battery manufacturing for an upcoming 2015 plug-in hybrid sedan and electric car, likely under the Infiniti banner, as well as other hybrid models throughout Nissan’s and Infiniti’s lineups. Palmer was asked at the conference whether or not Nissan’s operations could utilize all of the manufacturing capacity.
“That is the $24,000 question. The plan says yes, the current trajectory says no, and the question is whether we can close the current trajectory,” Palmer said.
Through this year, the Nissan Leaf has battled against a greatly discounted Chevrolet Volt in addition to concerns that the integrity of its batteries isn’t holding up too well in Arizona’s hot weather. Nissan says it’s seen no problem with the batteries’ operation; its communications programs need to respond better to concerned customers.
“To be straightforward, we don’t know how to deal with it. We’ve been slow,” he said.
And if that weren’t enough, the oldest electric car on the market is starting to fall behind its newer competition in terms of technology and application. While only sold in select markets, cars like the Ford Focus Electric have begun chipping away with newer technology like a 6.6-kilowatt-hour onboard charger versus the 3.3-kilowatt-hour unit found in the Nissan Leaf that cut down on charging times.
Rumor has it Nissan is upgrading its electronics to a similar system for 2013.
It’s been an uphill battle for electric cars from the get-go with the technology being new, expensive, and constantly undergoing progress. We’ll be interested to see whether a refreshed Leaf, domestic manufacturing, and a better outreach program will be able to jumpstart the wilting electric vehicle.
Source: Detroit News