Will 2013 Nissan Leaf Price Cut Cause Sales To Soar?

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2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

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It happens every so often: a spate of media reports with gloom-and-doom headlines about what a dismal failure electric cars are.

Take, for instance, this morning's in Reuters--"Electric Cars Head Toward Another Dead End"--or a weekend report in The Detroit News entitled "Electric Vehicle Sales Sputter."

So, let's review.

Yes, the optimistic predictions of plug-in electric cars sales made by manufacturers two or three years before production and sales began have not been met.

Yes, electric cars will be a small portion of the market for several years to come.

Yes, battery-electric cars may be a smaller portion of the total than range-extended electrics and plug-in hybrids for years to come as well.

None of that negates the growth in sales: From a modest first-year level of about 17,500 plug-in electric cars sold in the U.S. in 2011, sales tripled last year.

And that's even before adding in results from Tesla Motors--whose Model S is now assumed to be selling at a rate of up to 20,000 per year.

Proponents of "pure electric" cars, run only on batteries, point to both the Tesla Model S and the less expensive, updated 2013 Nissan Leaf as the cars that will rescue that segment of the broader plug-in universe.

But will a cheaper 2013 Leaf really cause sales to soar beyond the 9,000-to-10,000 annual level they were at in both 2011 and 2012?

We think sales will rise--depending in part on what incentives Nissan provides on the new U.S.-built Leaf--but that they won't soar into the stratosphere. Pike Research agrees.

For one thing, the 2013 Leaf is still a $30,000-plus car unless you get the absolute base model, the Leaf S, and don't add any options--including the desirable 6.6-kilowatt charger.

While Nissan is continuing its $199-per-month lease offer on the 2013 Leaf, not all buyers want to lease.

2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

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And industry analysts often focus too much on sticker price, whereas today, electric cars are not sold on price but to meet a variety of different motivations among various buyers.

But more than that, the 2013 Leaf is a slightly upgraded, slightly less expensive tweak to the same Leaf we've seen for two years now.

It has a larger, more usable load bay, and that 6.6-kW charger option that cuts Level 2 recharging time roughly in half. Those are good upgrades, but they're minor.

Still, while its electric range hasn't yet been certified by the EPA--Nissan expects a modest increase from last year's 73-mile rating, it says--its range won't soar to 100 miles or anything close.

And there remain less expensive plug-in cars on the market (notably the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and revised 2013 Smart Electric Drive), though neither is as large and capacious as the Leaf.

We're not going to get into sales predictions at this stage, though we do think U.S. Leaf sales this year will rise notably from 10,000 a year.

We know Leaf sales for February and perhaps March will be significantly lower than the 1,500-per-month rate seen at the end of last year. Nissan has already all but sold out its inventory of 2012 Leafs imported from Japan.

2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

Enlarge Photo

The first 2013 models will leave the Tennessee plant en route to dealers this month, but filling the distribution pipeline could take until the end of March, according to Nissan spokesman Travis Parman.

That means that it won't be until April or May that Leaf sales will return to "normal"--whatever that rate may be.

We think it will take time for the Leaf to find its market(s), wherever it's built, simply due to the real phenomenon of buyer range anxiety and winter weather--which can cut the Leaf to 50 miles of range in some circumstances.

Nissan will also have to produce a sustained marketing campaign that underscores the pluses of owning an electric car--well byond the same old, "It's good for you and the planet" message.

So that "time" may be measured not in months, but years, just as it was for the Toyota Prius hybrid from 2000 through 2004.

How do you think the Leaf will sell during 2013?

Leave us your predictions in the Comments below.


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Comments (35)
  1. The low hanging fruit (environmentalist that can afford it and accept the limitations and inconvenience) already bough it. Now, it's time to compete with the people considering the Versa or similar sized vehicles. This means three factors; price, price, and price. Telling people (like I do), that after 150,000 miles of driving you break even with a gas car, is not enough. The payback has to be faster. The car needs to be priced so that it's $22K-23K out of the dealer (incentives, tax breaks included); list at $29.9K. Of course, significant range increase and reduction of charge time would help a lot.

  2. many buyers of the Volt and Leaf are upgrading from the Prius.

    Remember, many environmentalists bought the Prius from 1999 to 2010, as those vehicles age out, they will be looking at the Volt, Leaf, Prius, Fusion-electric, etc....

    I don't think i would get an all electric, but, a plug in would be very appealling to me.

  3. In CA (and some other states) the base Leaf will be $18,800 after incentives. The Fed tax credit really should be changed to a point-of-sale rebate though. At least leasing includes that rebate up front.

  4. I was not aware that CA was still handing out the incentives ($5K, correct?).

    William, I would take it a step further; I would put the tax credit in the hands of the manufacturer. It seems everyone is fine for the oil companies to get tax breaks; but if you give it to the consumer, everyone has a cow.

  5. @Juan: The California purchase rebate for a Leaf is now $2,500, but it arrives in the form of a check in the mail weeks after purchase--rather than as a credit on taxes up to 15 months later.

  6. It is much faster with the swappable batt. Because i dont buy the battery at all. i pay for it as i rack up the miles, and because driving electric is much cheaper the miles get racked up big time (25K miles annually)

  7. "...industry analysts often focus too much on sticker price".
    That's true, but in my case it's the primary factor in owning an electric car, and sadly the reason I don't have one yet. I will, but not until I can get my hands on one for under €15,000.

  8. How much a month are you spending on gas currently? If it is more than $100 (€75), you can lease a Leaf and pay for the electricity for less than your spending on gas. The purchase price itself doesn't matter when the lease is lower than your monthly fuel cost on a traditional vehicle.

  9. Well son enough you will be able to get three year old post-lease cars in Israel for less than that amount.

  10. It will sell better but heavy incentives will have to continue. It's a shame that 6.6 kW charger hasn't been added as standard across the range and they have "supply issues" again from the model year changeover. They're shooting themselves in the foot. I would love to pick up my second LEAF but I'll probably wait until 2014 when it will be time for Nissan to upgrade the battery (they'd better...)

  11. It's the range!

    If your round trip to work is 50 miles, fuel costs are already negligible, and you have 15+ choices of affordable 40+ mpg (combined) cars with no range limits.
    After a few years you'll be down as much as 20% capacity. Will every drive home become a white knuckler?

    With an EPA range of 200+ you know you're good regardless of what happens. In 7 years I could still make it home without worrying, even if defog/wipers/lights were needed during a rain storm with a 30 MPH head wind. And you would only need to charge to 80%, while also having fewer deep discharges, extending the battery life even longer.

  12. It's not the range, it is infrastructure and the ability to plan one's trips. 50 mile round trip commute is easily done on a single charge in an Leaf. With minimal at work charging it could be done now and into the forseeable future. We have people with a ONE WAY 50 mile commute today who are charging at work with their Leafs. They are saving more money in gas per month than the payment on their Leaf, and they had a 36MPG-40MPG car before (Civics).

  13. And if the Leaf had a swappable battery then the whole range=anxiety question would be out the window

  14. With a 50 mile round trip the cost of a Leaf will never be justified. What do the charge-at-work crew do when they arrive at work then get a call their kid/wife is sick, or the office is closed for some reason? Beg a coworker for their car? Call a taxi to take them 50 miles home?

  15. No, they'd just quick-charge for 10 minutes.

  16. With the swappable battery option no white knuckler because the owner of the batteries will retire older batteries for newer, greater range batteries. Lithium is so valuable it will never be garbage.

  17. EV Dead End, Sales Sputter … all eye catching headlines; but they're miss information about the overall market. Once data from some manufactures which has not been tallied (eg Tesla) is taken in to account the "dip" become meaningless.

    Fact: year over year 2011 to 2012 up over 200% (schuss to nay-sayers).

    Tesla reports its Q4 2012 next week with insights on production numbers, deliveries, order backlog in addition to all important financial numbers.

    Q1 2013 is a transition quarter for issan does a soft reset with updated Leaf model from new North America production run(s) make way to dealers. Dealers are already offering $99 24 month leases on model S: http://www.boardwalknissan.com/specials/new.htm Subtract gas + carpool access = eWOW!

  18. That lease option is stunningly affordable. I suspect that even with the lease payment it would still work out cheaper to own operating a typical gas car.
    Sigh. Another moment where I wished I lived in USA. Here in Slovakia we haven't even got the first generation Leaf yet!

  19. It makes a lot of sense as a second car where I live because rebates and tax credits total 13K, and 5.5K of those can be had even if you lease. That and the possibility of fuel costs of 1.5 cents per mile. I'm hoping to buy or lease either a Leaf or elecrtric smart in a few months.

    I think lower total cost (not just lower price), more infrastructure (especially fast chargers), and increased range are what will make it sell. Looks like Nissan will have two of those three things before long.

    Supply issues will definitely hurt things in the short term, though. They can't sell what they don't have.

  20. GM’s Spark EV should make things interesting. They did a great job with the Volt and, since we’re looking for an all-electric, I’m hoping they’ve had the resources to do it again with the Spark EV! (Its competition, for us, will be the Leaf with its as-yet-unannounced Canadian 2013 price.)

  21. Please come back here and let us all know when you decide what to get or take possession of either one. Here's hoping you get a great deal on whichever you decide to get!

  22. The low lease price should definetly help. If anyone does the math, it is almost a no brainer if the range is sufficient for you. It is a great way to try it out.

    I just hope that there are more choices for people to choose from. So far, the ONLY mainstream choices are just Focus EV and Leaf. Everything else would require people with significant tradeoffs...

    I call it a good start.

  23. I think the 2013 is what the 2011 should have been, it's a new fresh start for the Leaf. Modest incremental improvements in the product will lead to modest incremental improvements in sales. I don't expect a huge jump but I do expect sales to rise. The Leaf is a great around town car with the ability to do some side jaunts. it's not a good long distance car even with fast charging, it's too stressful for the battery and driver. There is no doubt that a 200+ mile range would substantially quell the resistance. the reality is tat there are just too many factors that can reduce range substantially for an EV, like cold, snow, rain, elevation gain, heating, defrost, heat wind. a larger battery (200miles) would leave plenty of wiggle room!

  24. In Israel, Better Place sold 102 pure electric Fluence ZE in January alone. This is before another price hike in gasoline which now sells for 8 $/gal including tax. major corporations are gearing up to lease many more cars as the batt-swap network is being completed.

  25. I have a 140 miles round trip commute to work. Desperately looking to minimize commute cost. Will the Leaf work for me? What model or options do I need to make it work? We were thinking of getting a solar electric PV grid system for our home. Can the Leaf plug in to this grid ?

  26. @Ann: If you can get your workplace to install a Level 2 charging station (they can get a tax break for doing so), it could work depending on the temperatures in which you commute.

    Here's one guy who uses his Leaf for a similar "extreme commute":

  27. Thanks John, I work as a consultant, so not sure if the client would be willing to make the investment. Also, they have open car parking, so would be tough to get a charger I would think. Thanks a lot for the link.

    I was also wondering about maintenance and insurance costs? Any insights into those ?

  28. Put a more powerful motor in it, increase battery capacity, and make the Esflow! About 100 mile range electric cars, most people do not want and won't buy one even if it meets their needs. However those that do find that it is a great primary car to drive all over a city. The other car is used for the spouse and longer distance trips.
    That said, it is a nice car to drive. Everybody should test drive and electric car at least once.

  29. *an electric car...

  30. Yes.

  31. Here are the current problems with public charging stations: There are too few of them; it takes about 4 hours to completely charge my Volt; the spots are often occupied by legitimate chargers; people with gas cars park in the spots; people with plug-ins park and leave them long after they are charged; and people with plug-ins park in the spots without having to charge just to park somewhere!

  32. I bought a Leaf 2012, two month ago and used it as my daily commuter car (30miles round trip). My spouse uses the minivan for her trips and for longer family travel we use the minivan. For after work activities there is a sufficient range (63m miles) even in cold winters (-15C, 5F). Maybe after the 3 year lease we might get close, but that is why we are leasing it and not buying. After this lease, if the commuting distance stays the same we will again go for an electric car, may be even buy it if the battery life and replacement becomes clearer. In the mean time driving electric is really fun. Some days of the week we argue who gets to use it for the day. Yes I said fun, because evens it is not a sports car, it has the perfect transmission.

  33. Yes a perfect transmission because there is no delay, no slauching start, immediate torque at any speed, without loss of control thanks to the fast traction control. A top speed above 90 mph, enough to get a ticket. Because the heavy battery is so low, it is also very stable and controlled around corner. Before increasing the range it is wiser to first drop the price, to make the pay back time shorter because the federal governmental incentive is limited in quantities of vehicles produced. For the anxious people, sorry. If your daily commute is around 50 miles or less, test drive such an electric car. Until then disregard the other comments. Nissan has the plan and plant. I can only hope that more car makers will develop affordable EVs.

  34. By the way in spring 2013 the Fiat 500 electric will come out in California. It is a sexy little car that has even more torque power and range at all temperatures. I wish I could have bought it in my state when my previous gas guzzler broke down. Enjoy.

  35. At this point I be looking at a leaf in about 3 years due to three reasons
    1) our 5.4kw solar Pv solar gives us a 5.1k right off which will take us a few years to use
    2) we still have a loan on our 2012 rav4
    3) in a few years the leif will have over 100 mile range

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