Is GM’s U.S. Boss Scared By The 2011 Nissan Leaf Electric Car?

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2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

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You’d hardly expect Mark Reuss, the North American President of General Motors, to be a fan of the primary rival to the company's 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

But in a recent interview with the Nashville Business Journal, the man responsible for starting the GM Performance Division took his dislike to a whole new level. 

Reuss was so brutal we can’t help but wonder if he's feeling just a little worried about the Volt’s Japanese rival. 

He called the Leaf a “single purpose” car and said he wouldn’t even rely on it to get his children to and from high school safely. And he went on to slam both the Nissan Leaf and its 73-mile range. 

The 2011 Leaf "has a finite range and requires infrastructure and charging to run it, where the Volt is really an extended-range electric vehicle,” Reuss said.

“The Volt can really be the only car you own. You better be living within a certain range for the Leaf. It’s a lot different market, a lot different car, and a completely different driver.”

GM's Mark Reuss with 2012 Chevrolet Sonic at 2011 Detroit Auto Show

GM's Mark Reuss with 2012 Chevrolet Sonic at 2011 Detroit Auto Show

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Range anxiety? Limited range? Impossible to charge? These claims are hardly new. In fact, they sound eerily similar to the early the Volt marketing material.

But Reuss went one step further, calling into question the 2011 Nissan Leaf’s 73-mile EPA rated range and its lack of a gasoline generator to provide backup electric current.

“I’m not sure if I’d put the Leaf in the hands of my three kids,” Reuss jibed. “Say, what if they can’t charge it? What if they get to school and can’t charge it?”

Either Reuss can’t charge at home, or his kids have one very, very long commute to school and back.

In fact, we can’t think of a single teenage kid in the Greater Detroit area who lives more than 35 miles from school.

But then, we can’t think of very many parents that would drop the $32,750 price of a 2011 Leaf on a car for their inexperienced teen drivers to drive to school. Perhaps highly-paid GM executives are different, though.

2011 Chevrolet Volt drive test, March 2011

2011 Chevrolet Volt drive test, March 2011

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This outlandish example of school commutes, combined with recent sales figures, make us wonder if Reuss is scared of the Volt’s unlikely competitor. 

Reuss told the Nashville Business Journal that the Volt and Leaf weren’t really rivals, and we’d have to agree. In a conventional market, the two cars are very different

But in the fledgling market of plug-in vehicles is hardly typical, and it turns the two cars into bitter rivals, simply because they're the only two mainstream electric cars you can go to a dealer and purchase today.

In fact, since both cars launched last December, sales figures have been scrutinized over and over.

Last month, for the first time since its launch, the Leaf sales figures topped those of the Volt--despite Nissan’s tardy rollout schedule, a devastating earthquake, and subsequent supply-chain problems. 

Is Reuss feeling a little anxious by Nissan’s gain in popularity? Or perhaps he's just indulging in the annoying but longstanding Detroit habit of trash-talking?

Let us know what you think in the Comments below.

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Comments (38)
  1. You have a couple of things wrong, Nikki. The earthquake had nothing to do with the April numbers. 600 LEAFs left the port the day before the earthquake and those are the ones sold in April. We will see how the May numbers will look like and I don't think those will be very pretty though the factory is now back on schedule. What Mark is also saying is not to drop the 30+K on the LEAF but to get the 40+K Volt for your kids to commute in :-)
    I personally would love to get the Volt but it only has four seats, so he's right, it's a different utility/price segment and the LEAF is a five seater that will cover 95% of our driving needs without supporting the sheiks. However, there's enough demand for these cars to coexist for years to come...

  2. I pretty much agree with JKD. The market certainly has plenty of room to accommodate both vehicles. I am interested in both.

  3. Just the kinduv article I would expect from this website - lots of biased Leaf luv. Why doesn't this article point out that Volt sales are down because lack of supply and not demand. A "little worried", give me a break! Not many of us can afford a 2nd car which the Leaf would have to be. However a Volt can be a primary car used for more than 73 mile trips which I do regularly.

  4. I guess Reuss has every reason to worry about the Leaf. It's quite a bit cheaper than the Volt and since over 60% of US households own more than one car people will probably realize that not every car in their household needs to be roadtrip capable, especially if that comes at substantial extra cost. Also it was recently announced by GM that Volt drivers go 1000 miles between fill ups indicating that many of them would have been better off buying the Leaf since apparently they mainly use their car for short trips. So: the Leaf would suit most US households, the Volt is just an expensive way to keep every base covered in single car households.

  5. @larryscheib: True, demand is still high for both cars. Nissan has sold more than 5300 LEAFs worldwide however, so it's not a very close "race" between the two cars. Both are getting creamed by Toyota's Prius and will be for some time. The Volt's main competition is the Prius and soon to be Plug-in Prius. I don't know why GM wastes their time bashing the LEAF. They're gonna need a 20 mi AER Volt for 2012 at a price point of around $32k to compete I think.

  6. The bit about his kids was unnecessary, but I fail to see what all the fuss is about on the rest. If by "single-purpose", he meant urban driving, then most current EVs fall into that category. They do have finite range, and do rely on infrastructure. This doesn't mean they won't work for many people, but stating these things out loud is hardly "trash-talking". Is it a bit of a jab at the competition? Of course. But it's been way overly sensationalized by the media- and whether I personally agree with the statements or not, I like the candor and would be happy to see the same from Nissan.

  7. Nikki biased .. that's laughable as she has nothing to gain. Reuss' Leaf-bashing is motivated by pure corp. self-interest, nothing else. Charging infrastructure is spreading .. so Reuss should be understandably worried. And as new Leaf models continue to extend the range, the Volt will quickly become an antiquity.

  8. Please note that Nissan had produced over 8000 LEAF's by the end of April and has dominated global sales of electric cars throughout this calendar year. The Chevy Volt only led for the first 3 months of this year in its only current market, the US. More LEAF's were initially being kept in Japan to take advantage of government incentives that expired in March.
    With Nissan's recent ramp-up of production, and other production facilities being built, the LEAF is planned to dominate the EV market for the forseeable future.

  9. Since the Volt is a Plug-In hybrid, rather than a true EV, maybe GM should be more scared by this:
    Toyota To Make Plug-in Capability Standard on All 2014 Prius Models

  10. I think both cars have their place. What Mark said is what I would expect a corporate leader to say--it's part of the job and why not posture in a way that's best for the company.

  11. Yes! Let's argue over plugin cars! This is great.
    My paradigm changing world saving car is better than your paradigm changing world saving car.
    That's the story. How great is your car? My car is greater.

  12. Considering how much GM has riding on the Volt, I'm not too shocked that Mr. Reuss may come across a being a little bit prejudiced, LOL. I wonder how Mr. Ghosn would respond to a similar line of questioning? Very similarly IMHO.
    I agree with N Riley. The market will decide soon enough. I hope that they are both hugely successful. We will all benefit if they are.

  13. i plan to stick with my guns, regarding the volt. 2-3 years of production IN ITS CURRENT HYBRID MODE.

  14. Reuss is telling it like what it is. It's silly to think he's worried about the Leaf when they are selling very little of them. Of course, Nissan said they would sell zillions of them, but most people will not buy them for the reasons Reuss has mention. Also the Leaf is really a low tech car as compared to the Volt. It's not any better than the Ev-1 GM had in the early ninety's except today with a better battery.

  15. I don't find these comments "brutal". He's simply focusing his message on the main distinction between the two cars and trying to justify why the Volt comes out ahead. He's GM's president...if he wasn't bullish on his companies products, he probably should be fired.
    Again, the sales of both the Leaf and Volt have little to do with popularity at this point. Both have plenty of demand (waiting lists), so sales numbers are almost purely showing production speed, which is unrelated to popularity (at least at this point).

  16. Yep. That's it. He's scared.
    Leafer Madness.

  17. @john doe: You don't know what you are talking about . The Volt is a GM product. We know what GM has made for decades:JUNK!

  18. the problem is that the voilt is not what they say it is ti's not high tech it can't even return to electric without pluging in. short range 25miles as tested I think is a POS and they are going to have to come out with something realy revalutionary and hightech. like electric electric hybrid, I have one I made myself.

  19. The comments show that GM's US boss doesn't understand his market. That is criminal for someone in his position. He also doesn't understand EVs, which also reflects poorly on him and his company.
    Given that 60% of households have multiple cars and few if any have 2 commuters in the household who do more than 100 (or 73) miles a day - he should know there is a large market for a 100 mile EV.

  20. I heard a Nissan Canada rep dis the Volt because it has an ICE and the Leaf is all electric. What the Nissan moron failed to mention was that the Volt will never have to be rescued by a polluting tow truck in search if a place to plug in. AAA/CAA alert!! Don't give Leaf owners membership.

  21. I heard a Nissan Canada rep dis the Volt because it has an ICE and the Leaf is all electric. What the Nissan moron failed to mention was that the Volt will never have to be rescued by a polluting tow truck in search if a place to plug in. AAA/CAA alert!! Don't give Leaf owners membership.

  22. gm is doing their best to slow down evs. it will come back to kick em in the butt. i only hope that we taxpayers arent asked to bail them out again.
    it is not that they dont understand their market, it is that they have ulterior motives (big oil) behind their actions.
    as i stated way before the volt was ever sold, it was an attempt to stall evs.
    i cant see that it will sell much, once evs get rolling.
    which is why i still give it a 2-3 year production life span. they got a freebie this year, as almost all other evs have been delayed.

  23. I have an observation. The VOLT sales were low in April because GM has 700 dealers who need to get a permanent display model. So a lot of VOLT production in April was not sold.
    Second, the market will soon tell us which concept is better: Pure EV (Leaf) or Extended Range EV (VOLT).
    Let’s say the market decides pure EV is the way to go. What can GM do? Pull out the engine and stick a battery in there, making total battery capacity similar to Leaf, and same EV range. Pretty simple compared to what Nissan has to do.
    If the market wants ER-EVs? Nissan has to start from scratch.
    I believe GM is in the better situation here.

  24. GM showed us their ignorance with the EV1 fiasko and the're showing it again.

  25. The Volt is a far more practical car than the Leaf. I would LOVE to have an all electric car. But the technology is just not there yet unless you live and play close to work (and you never plan on taking any road trips). One major reason to buy a new, expensive car over $20,000 or $30,000+ dollars is so that you can also enjoy getting out of town here and there when you finally get a sunny weekend off. Good luck going anywhere in the Leaf. The GM manager may have embellished a tad on a few points, but mostly he was just being practical. And if you still don't like it... you can buy an all electric Ford pretty soon.

  26. The very limited range of the Leaf and other EVs may be improved sooner rather than later as solid state battery technologies arrive. Attached is a link to a new (May 4, 2011) video showing a DBM Kolibri battery equipped Audi A-2 cruising the highways of Germany, reportedly with a 300 mile range before recharging. The video has English language translation.

  27. GM made a conscience decision to aviod an all-electric in favor of the logical bridge product. They know all-electrics are coming, but thought that they could sell more extended range EVs while the infrastructure grows into place. Soon it will be obvious that infrastructure is a minor factor in EV's daily use. Even where there are plenty of charging stations they are not being used, EV drivers dont need them because they fill up at home. Anyone who tries to argue the sales numbers game is missing the point. When there is no longer a year long waiting list for EVs and they are just sitting there waiting for folks to come in and buy them, then we can talk about how relivant the sales numbers are. And, its time to end big oil subsides.

  28. he does provide valid points for some, but not the majority. there are several who are making the Volt work and work very well. averaging better than 150 MPG is successful, period. granted, no gas is better, but if i took the weighted average between my Prius (which makes a commute that neither plug in options would cover but can be covered by the Leaf) and my Leaf, i am not doing a whole lot better at about 310 MPG.
    But like most 2 car households, we cant do with one car and the Leaf covers BOTH our transportation needs. Sure a Volt would greatly increase our overall MPG, but the price is simply too high.
    right now, the Leaf covers better than 55% of transportation needs plus 92% of our "non-commuting" needs.

  29. 27 comments? I guess you touched a nerve somewhere Nikki, LOL. so much the better.
    GM has more EV experience that anyone, and they learned some bitter lessons about "range anxiety" from their EV1 experiences. Wait for it.

  30. hi dave,
    and every year, as the batteries get better, and range increases, more and more people will begin to discover what you have.
    the volt is a short term failure. and better place will go the same route, for the same reason.
    i just hope that the taxpayer is not forced to pay for either of these situations.

  31. I wonder how much of GMs decision to make an ER instead of an EV is related to maintenance? It seems like dealers are going to take a big service revenue hit if reliable EVs take off.
    One of the reasons I want a pure EV is to get rid of the ICE and all of its related maintenance hassles.

  32. The author wanted a headline to suck you in. It has worked.
    BTW, that the Leaf did not use good engineering in the battery pack is a great concern. If the risk they took works, more power to them but there is good reason for doubt.

  33. The first Volt delivered in CT burst into flames and burned the owners garage to the ground. Then the fire dept had to come back the following day because it started smoking again....

  34. Perhaps all the leaf lovers should do some homework. heh. along with this lame author.

  35. The Volt did NOT burn down that gagage in CT !
    It was the owner's homebuilt EV or his DIY charging system... that's the truth of the matter.

  36. This Nikki person writes like a total d.i.p.s.h.i.t. Or is this now the Electric Cars Weekly World News?

  37. Yes, unless GM's american presidents have a habit of talking like that about anything and everything, this does demonstrate that GM considers the Leaf a threat.
    GM's current attempt to go against 100% EVs with fast-charging infrastructure will go down in history as their second biggest mistake. In the absence of a offering a real EV, they should contrast the Volt to non-plugin vehicles, but maybe they couldn't figure out how to do that without competing against themselves. ;)

  38. Reuss seems to have voiced reality, while author Nikki avoids responding to his criticism of the Leaf. He's right, the Leaf IS a totally niche vehicle
    that really can do very little and simply cannot exist except as a second car. I don't even know an easy way to transport the car if you move to another city, since it has all the mobility of your favoite
    easy chair. Nikki characterizes Reuss's statements
    of obvious-to-everyone Leaf deficiencies as "brutal." Everyone knows the Leaf isn't worth a damn. Of course, neither is the Volt. Folks around here have this very bad habit of believing that every vehicle powered by electricity is a good thing, and worth many tens of thousands of dollars. Sorry, not true, even at $10 per gallon gasoline.

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