Nissan Leaf Electric-Car Sales Slump: What's Happening Here?

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Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Hall in an ad for the 2012 Nissan Leaf

Last year it was the Chevy Volt, which went through several months of slow sales before rebounding in the spring.

This year, it's the Nissan Leaf, the world's highest-volume battery-electric car, whose U.S. sales have slumped to just 600 a month or less--and stayed there since early this year.

Just 3,148 Leafs were sold in the first six months of 2012, fewer than the 3,875 delivered from January to June of 2011.

According to Al Castignetti, vice president of sales for Nissan Division in the U.S., monthly Leaf sales will remain at a level of 500 to 1,000 cars a month until December.

That's when the revised, U.S.-built 2013 Leaf model starts rolling off assembly lines in Smyrna, Tennessee--interspersed with Nissan Altimas, Maximas, and other gasoline cars.

He stuck with the prediction that Nissan will deliver a total of 20,000 Leafs in the U.S. by the end of March 2013, however.

Yesterday, Green Car Reports interviewed Castignetti about low Leaf sales in 2012.

He attributed the results to three factors:

(1) Lumpy transition to dealer wholesaling

By far the biggest factor in the low sales numbers, Castignetti said, was the March 1 transition from a centralized reservation and assignment system to a more traditional dealer wholesaling model.

Rather than delivering Leafs to local dealerships only after a buyer has been confirmed, Nissan now ships electric cars to its dealers either to fulfill dealer orders or as part of a mix of vehicle allotments.

The move was made, he said, because Nissan didn't feel the online "Nissan journey" model of taking reservations and assigning cars individually could scale to the volume of orders it expects in 2013.

"That was OK at the start, with low volume" in the first year, Castignetti said.

But next year, Nissan can build up to 12,000 Leafs a month in Smyrna if sales demand.

What on earth makes Nissan think it can sell up to 50 times as many Leafs each month?

Upgrades for 2013 Leaf models

"We have things planned for the [updated] 2013 model that will help it in the marketplace," Castignetti said--which likely include a better heater, available leather seats, and an optional 6.6-kilowatt charger.

The U.S.-built 2013 Nissan Leaf could also be less expensive than earlier models built in Oppama, Japan, which suffer from the historically high Yen-dollar exchange rate. U.S. Leafs will use U.S.-built lithium-ion cells in their batteries.

At the same time as it started shipping Leafs direct to dealers on the wholesale model, the company completed its rollout of the Leaf across all 50 states.

That meant it had to fill a delivery pipeline with Leaf models, fitted with the options most appropriate for given regions, to dealers throughout the country--not just early adopter states like California, Oregon, and Washington.

Fine-tuning that process has taken time, he said, in figuring out where to allocate vehicles.

"I've got 3,000 Leafs in dealer inventory now, but some dealers still have zero cars," Castignetti said. "It's a dispersion issue."

(2) Misunderstanding of how different Leaf buyers are from other Nissan customers

The bigger issue, he admitted, was that Nissan greatly underestimated the effort required to market electric cars at the local level.

"We learned it was somewhat naive to assume we could wholesale the Leaf like an internal-combustion car," Castignetti said.

"No one walks into a Nissan dealer, crosses over from an Altima, a Maxima, or a Pathfinder, and decides to buy a Leaf instead."

"We thought dealers would take the car just like any other, but it's a totally different audience," the sales chief acknowledged.

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Comments (47)
  1. Personally I'm waiting for the 2013 model. I'm sure there are some worries about how Nissan will honor the battery warranty, particularly for people in hot climates.

  2. i have asked this question before - have they or have they not announced making changes to their battery ?

    it seems to be the biggest complaint by far.

  3. Yes they have:

    Doubling the range would go along way in making the car more mainstream, but I do believe price is still the main issue. Too bad there is an obvious trade off between these two problems.

  4. i was actually referring to the weather management problem. not that all areas need it, but it seems to be the biggest complaint regarding the leaf.

    range, whatever the issue, applies to all evs.

    if nissan has even hinted at changing that, it would almost definitely curtail sales to a large degree.

  5. Note that the article I referred to talks about a new chemistry that should have different properties as the current one so it might be less impacted by hot climates. Also note that a longer range means there is more redundancy in the pack to deal with the effects of capacity loss. For the current batterypack: I think people in hot climates should opt to lease the car rather than buy it.

  6. that's true - if it went further per charge, the need for battery management would be less critical.

    another question - if one is driving in cold or hot climates with a battery that does not have thermal management, and therefore probably needs to be charged more often - does that also mean that the life of the battery is also reduced ?

  7. Good question...I think the answer is yes, less residual capacity means more charging cycles which will accelerate the rate of capacity degradation. Beware of small batterypacks!

  8. Adding Warranty to the capacity would help too...

  9. Surely Nissan will have a longer range battery by 2013! That's the single most important upgrade they need to make...a $30,000 Car with a EPA rating of 120 mile will sell very well.

  10. Exactly could not agree more!

    Leather seats and a better heater, the geezer is clearly in lala land.

    With corporate BS like that Nissan have not got a hope capturing hearts and minds.

    Your typical Leaf buyer will be a well educated professional to "tempt" them as if they were some mindless Kardashian worshipper is arrant nonsense.

    Castignetti needs to start looking for ago on Jersey Shore.

  11. Thank you Ladson. You're exactly right! Nissan needs to redesign the LEAF for a REAL WORLD, winter/summer driving range of 100 miles or more. My LEAF averages only 75 miles in summer 60 and less in winter and I do most of my driving on city streets at speeds under 40.

  12. Then there is something wrong with your Leaf. 73 miles is easy to get at motorway speeds with the heating on in the UK.

  13. Initial actual tests in customers hands do not look good. Although maybe in city range might be up, higher speed range appears to have gone down (8 miles or so less range on two 2013's compared to two newish 2012's) - this is U.S. driving.

    Nissan took the expensive rare earth's out of the motor's magnets (makes it cheaper) - pretty staggering really when you consider the 2013's are 100lbs lighter. Lease only thank you very much...

  14. I am very interested in the Leaf as a secondary vehicle in my household. The range will take me too and from work with more than enough of drive around town range to get me home. The issue is the price being so high that I could purchase a hybrid for 10,000 dollars less and in the end it would be the same cost without the limited range of an electric only. If the price was reasonable for the options and size of the vehicle, it would be a no brainer, but economically these vehicles do not add up.

  15. But a Leaf does cost $10k less with the Fed and State rebates.

  16. And there's no maintenance cost and practically no fuel cost. Electricity is cheap in Tennessee, where I live. There's nothing to wear out except the battery, which has a long warranty. By the time the warranty is up, batteries will be much better and much cheaper. Battery electric cars totally change the economics of automobile buying. Leaf sales people need to stress these points. It's just silly to look at the initial sales cost and compare it to the cost of a gasoline car which requires expensive fuel, expensive maintenance, and has lots and lots of expensive mechanical parts to wear out. By the time that the Leaf battery wears out, a gasoline car will need a rebuilt engine.

  17. What would you say if I told you that the estimated 5-year cost of ownership of a 2012 Leaf was lower than a Honda Accord? Check it out at Edmunds. The mistake that most buyers make is that they only look at the sticker price when they should be considering the total cost. One big part of that difference is a $7500 tax credit. Then there's the cost of energy, which is about 1/4 the cost of energy as for a combustion engine car. There's practically zero maintenance - no oil changes, no transmission service, no intake filters or fuel filters, a and radiator that only has to be flushed at 100,000 miles of service. Finally, the depreciation is very low at 90+ percent of value after one year of ownership.

  18. This Nissan guy must have worked in political campaigns in his previous life - never heard so many stupid excuses and rosy scenarios coming just around the bend. Yeah, those leather seats will make the consumers beat down the doors of Leaf dealer
    showrooms. For Nissan and the Leaf's sake,I hope there are far brainier company folks thinking about the car's many problems.

  19. If the US-made ones could cut $6K off the MSRP, then they'll have something there. $10K off and maybe they do sell 3,000/month.

  20. It's over-priced and under-attractive.

  21. It's actually not over-priced, it's very affordable for what it is - and I'm sure Nissan is not making much profit. It's not a particularly good economic proposition compared to similarly equipped cars - but that's different than over-priced. "under-attractive", however I'm going to have to agree with you 100%

  22. Leather seats? Does Nissan have any idea what kind of people want to buy an all-electric vehicle? Hint: think crunchy Granola types. yeah, not the only audience, but definitely the part most likely to swear off gas completely.

  23. If Nissan only depends on those buyers without wider appeal, then the number of sales will NEVER take off... Leaf needs to go mainstream...

  24. Maddi, I'm not a "crunch granola type". I wanted to buy a LEAF (my delivery date was Dec 2010), but the cheap interior was one of the reasons I cancelled. People spending $40k on a car typically aren't upgrading from a entry level Civic - they expect some creature comforts.

  25. Al's 3 factors, & ultimate optimism, do make sense, but there is also the depressingly low overall sales of plug-in cars. I see 3 other factors:
    1. Extreme conservatism of car-buyers. It took a decade for most drivers to become sufficiently familiar with and trusting of hybrids to consider buying one. Absent a compelling need such as 1970s-style fuel disruptions, that is likely for plug-ins, too.
    2. The fossil-fuel-industry-fueled mainstream-media-and-Republican-party anti-environmentalism, making caring about climate change seem uncool for many, unnecessary for many more.
    3. Too few have experienced the exceptional driving experience of an EV. Even word-of-mouth needs help as, despite invitations, few have driven my Volt since 2010.

  26. I think the article hit the one primary issue on the head: poorly trained salespeople.  The first dealer I visited for a Leaf had a Leaf Specialist, but he wasn't there.  The knuckleheads who were working that day might as well have been selling the Space Shuttle.  The second dealer was fine, and we bought there, but only because we hit them when the Leaf Specialist was around.  

    A visit to the Chevy dealership was even worse.

    I think Tesla wins, hands down, with their retail stores in malls. Everyone selling a Tesla will love Tesla, just like everyone who sells Apples loves Apple products. Excitement is contagious, and no other car company can generate this kind of excitement.

  27. I've dealt with salespeople from Nissan, Ford and GM while looking at the LEAF, Focus EV, and Volt. In all three instances the person I spoke to was woefully under-informed. At the Ford and GM dealerships they actively tried to convince me that their plugin vehicle was not worth the hassle - and helpfully pointed me towards their other "award winning" vehicles.

  28. Well, I bought a Volt. But I will buy a Leaf as well if Nissan address the following problems:

    1. Price. (Still too high. Drop it to $29k before the rebates and it will sell like hot cakes).
    2. Battery. (Warranty it and add better cooling)
    3. Charger. (3.3KW is too slow. 6.6KW is needed for lower cost in public charging station and match Ford Focus EV).

    With limiting range, Leaf would need a good support network in the public to sell well. Public charging is EXPENSIVE. Some of the SF Bay Area charging stations cost anywhere between $1/hr to $2.75/hr. That is too much. Leaf can only charge about 10-15 miles in range per hour with its 3.3KW charger. At those prices, a Prius or the Volt is cheaper to run.

  29. I expect you will get all of your wishes, The souped up charger is already in the 2013 model, Carlos Ghosn has VW Golf money as a price target by 2017, so expect that price to start dropping once Smyrna production comes on line and I'm pretty sure current gen battery tech will be binned come 2015.

    The only way to get rid of all your remaining battery anxiety might be to lease though since I don't think capacity is going to be warranted any time soon.

  30. I hope so. Also, if Nissan would include a better EVSE, it would also help. Throw in a 120V/240V charger that can be portable, just watch the sales soar. As a Volt buyer, I might even go buying a Leaf and an EVSE..

  31. 4. The jaw-droppingly ugly styling

  32. Limited range is the LEAF's Achilles tendon. Range anxiety is a very stressful and real thing and I've had it numerous times in my LEAF. Winter range is particularly dismal.Still haven't run out of juice but gotten close. A 24kwh battery pack is just too small to make this a practical car for many people. Nissan made a big mistake when they ignored the basics like a thermal management system and larger battery pack. Nissan solution? just charge more often. That isn't always practical.It really doesn't surprise me that the Volt is doing better with its lack of range anxiety.

  33. I'm surprised 2013 Leafs are rolling off so late starting in Dec. I thought they would be coming off sooner. If you look at the costs to produce in Japan and ship to USA, it is very expensive and by building in TN, the savings could be approaching 20% and Nissan has invested heavily and correctly into EV's. TN will be providing product to Europe as well. My prediction is that Nissan is shooting to be under $20,000 with tax credit. This changes the value proposition for the early majority buyers and allows Nissan to cross the chasm in marketing terms. The early majority will start to buy Leafs very quickly because it makes economic sense and it is of value to own. Watch Nissan blow the socks off of all their competitors.

  34. I am also waiting for the 2013 model, but if the body style remains unattractive, then I will be looking elsewhere.

  35. Castignetti makes some valid points. But as others have raised, I think the major issue is that the 2013 Leaf has to address the shortcomings brought out by EV enthusiasts to capture those who still need to cross over--say, from hybrids like the Prius or Volt.

    In particular, in my opinion, the 2013 Leaf needs a faster (6.6 kWH) on-board charger and an active thermal management system (to keep the main batteries cool in the summer and warm in the winter).

    These things, unfortunately, add cost to the vehicle. And a rising price tag puts the Leaf in firmer competition with so-called pricier EVs such as the Ford Focus Electric and BMW Active E.

  36. You're right on. The LEAF cost's $36K and feels like a $15k car. The Volt costs $39k and feels like a $35k car. That's why the Volt is doing well while the LEAF...isn't.

  37. I am waiting for the 6.6 charger and built in the good 'ol USA... then I am all in!

  38. Nissan should also include a Phil EVSE upgraded L1&L2 unit eliminating non-reliable on the "blink" type chargers, and install at least two L3 chargers at every Nissan dealership preferably the AV type, then seriously think about teaming up with "walmart" to do the same..IMHO

  39. Yes, the Blink chargers are junk. That's not really Nissan's fault though. As for charging at dealerships, or other public charging - it's really nonsense. People will do 99% of their charging at home. It's dependable, and much cheaper. If you buy a EV depending on public charging then you are in for pain. If you need public charging, then an EV isn't for you (yet). Just wait until longer range options are available.

  40. After reading the article and comments/replies below, I offer some corrections, comments, and suggestions.

    Corrections to article:
    1) New Mitsu Miev EV n Ford Focus EV are direct competitors to Leaf not mentioned in the article. These vehicles may not be immediately available to all Americans but some don't mind waiting another few months for them.
    2) 2013 Leaf is also competing directly against its 2012 brother. As the article and some have stated on this post, the 2013 will be better so why not wait a little longer.

  41. 3) The Prius had no real direct competition, still doesn't, to it's claim as the best mpg mid size four door hatchback in the US for over a decade now. The Prius is still king by far in its market...surprisingly. Leaf has the Miev(even though it sucks) and Focus EV as direct competitors within two years of its launch. Indirect competition like the Pip n Volt do take some sales away but not like the two other EVs will in the next few years.

    Comments to replies above:
    1) The price is fine for the Leaf now...however, Nissan should not raise price till next gen Leaf...even though more features are being added. Cost of EVs to operate is far lower then non-evs so total costs of ownership will be lower over time.

  42. 2) All those additional features or options are good for 2013 Leaf but the 6.6 charger should be standard if Nissan wants to really compete well head to head w/ Focus EV.
    3) Therefore range is the vital feature to improve. If Nissan were to manage to increase the range to 130 or higher, many more folks would purchase the 2013 Leaf. However, this is unlikely to be done for the 2013 MY.

    1. Nissan needs to focus on increasing the Leaf range to at least 120 by the 2014 MY.
    2. One way to increase range is to offer a coupe Leaf having just two seats and small area under hatchback. That should shave off at least 500 lbs. Use composites and other lighter alloys to shave off another couple hundred pounds as well.

  43. 3. Reduce drag on future leaf by using vid cameras instead of side mirrors, lower vehicle closer to ground, and starting from scratch on a new, sleeker body instead of a smoothed out Versa.
    4. Offer meeting space inside dealerships for local Leaf clubs to meet once a month. These meetings could enlighten potential Leaf buyers as well as Nissan dealership staff.
    5. Provide a once a month free EV charge at dealerhips for Leaf buyers.
    6. Inform the driving public and especially those at Nissan dealerships viewing Leaf of the simple, better economics of the Leaf compared to conventional vehicles.

  44. 'But next year, Nissan can build up to 12,000 Leafs a month in Smyrna if sales demand. What on earth makes Nissan think it can sell up to 50 times as many Leafs each month?'

    hmmm, with 600 LEAFs currently being sold each month, somebody better check their math..

  45. "We're betting long-term that the Leaf will be a nice car to have in the stable"

    It's an expensive "spare tire" to have sitting in the garage because of it's limited range..........just like the "doughnut spare" in many cars.

  46. Toyota dealers were clueless when the Prius came out. I used to go, asked a few questions, and I would get back "you must be an engineer". So what? Educated people are your target customers at this time. Nissan dealers need to get knowledgeble, passionate sales people for this product.
    And I agree about the price/fuel equation. My 1998 mazda 626 finally died last month with 176000 miles on it. At 26mpg average, I used 6770 gallons of gas, and at an avg. price of $2.5 through those 14 years, I paid $16,925 in gas. The leaf at $0.026 per mile, will cost you $4600 for the same mileage. Sure, the batteries will need to be replaced; but in 8 years they will be much cheaper.

  47. Leaf will never take of trying to mimic other Nissans. Their marketing is far too conservative. The can should be visually different (as Toyota did for the Prius) and have young, vibrant, options (think Mopar muscle cars of the 70's). Just five boring colors (red, blue, white, silver, black) that every other car offers? Not even one green? Really?

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