Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Hall in an ad for the 2012 Nissan LeafEnlarge Photo
"You have to be an electric-car person to buy a Leaf at this stage--and we did a poor job of educating dealers how to market the car, and who to market to."
So now Nissan encourages dealers to participate in electric-car groups, environmental causes, and other local activities where likely electric-car buyers may be found.
"You need to be included in these kinds of events," Nissan is telling its dealers, Castignetti said, among "this audience, the green community."
"That's our biggest challenge."
(3) Increased competition in California
A third factor that may be slowing Nissan Leaf sales is the loss of its unique status in California as the sole affordable car granted permission to travel in High Occupancy Vehicle lanes with just a single occupant.
Last year at this time, the electric Leaf was the only new car to qualify for a white zero-emission vehicle HOV-lane sticker in California (aside from the $109,000 Tesla Roadster and a handful of natural-gas Honda Civics).
This year, both an updated 2012 Chevrolet Volt and the new 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid qualify for HOV access, under a new green-sticker program for vehicles that can operate solely on electricity for part of the time.
The Volt eliminates concerns about limited electric range, and the plug-in Prius has both the name recognition and reputation for reliability of the standard hybrid Toyota Prius. Each is a formidable competitor to the Leaf.
And with California having cut its clean-car purchase rebate from $5,000 to $2,500 as more electric cars are sold, the check sent to every Leaf owner after buying is smaller--raising the Leaf's effective cost.
Tesla Roadster with CA Clean Air Vehicle sticker -- flickr user jurvetsonEnlarge Photo
So what now?
Castignetti--befitting his role as a sales VP--remains highly optimistic about the long-term prospects for the Leaf.
It's a question, he said, of focusing on the long-term sales strategy versus short-term results this year.
And, he said, the Leaf is bringing buyers into dealerships that have never before bought a Nissan car--the coveted "conquest" buyers from other makes.
He also noted that Nissan's dealers are excited about being able to sell the only affordable battery electric car built in the States next year, once Leaf production at the Tennessee plant starts in December.
"With the uncertainty about gas prices in the industry, and China, India using more and more," he said, "how long can gas stay at $3.20 or $3.50 a gallon?"
"It can't. Everyone knows it can't."
Prius history as model
2000 Toyota PriusEnlarge Photo
"We're betting long-term that the Leaf will be a nice car to have in the stable" for that inevitability, he said. "This will become an amazingly popular platform."
Castignetti ended the interview on an up note. "I was at Toyota [in 2000] when it launched the original Prius," he said.
He's been through the early ups and downs of launching an entirely new type of cars--hybrids, in that case--and he's well aware of how successful the Prius brand is today, 13 years later.
"Sixty percent of Leaf buyers are coming out of a Prius," he noted. "If I could get even 10 percent of Prius buyers into a Leaf ... that would be huge."
What do you think? Do Castignetti's explanations hold up? Or are there other issues with Nissan Leaf sales in the U.S. as well?
Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.