This is a tough period for Nissan and its Leaf electric car.
Sales have been stagnant, averaging 500 cars per month this year. More recent concerns by owners in Phoenix over unexpected battery-capacity loss raise the specter of a plug-in car with limited lifespan.
Some observers feel that Nissan hasn't adequately communicated the car's capabilities and expected battery life to prospective buyers, nor engaged Leaf owners adequately when they have had complaints.
Now Nissan is making several changes to its U.S. Leaf operation, and last week it surveyed "hand-raisers"--those people who indicated an early interest in the Leaf.
Recipients of the e-mail request--including both those who went on to buy a Leaf and those who didn't--had previously asked Nissan to be kept updated about the battery electric car.
Questions in the online survey asked about what they looked for when buying a car, how those people viewed the Leaf, what they might use it for, and what they felt would be a reasonable price.
Green Car Reports was contacted by two separate readers, one in the Northeast and one in the Southeast, who had taken the online survey.
From our reader in the Northeast, last week:
I got a survey request from Nissan America on the Leaf today.
The questions make it clear that they are wondering what has gone wrong with their sales, and why so many people who have expressed interest (like me) have not made the purchase.
From our reader in the Southeast:
I was sent a Nissan Leaf consideration survey on September 25th.
It asked about things like price point, battery capacity, the most important things when considering the car (sticker price, cost of fuel, insurance costs), and my top concerns when buying the car (range, battery capacity, etc).
One of the questions was about a car-sharing program. It said Nissan was considering a car share program for Leaf owners to be able to borrow a conventional car for occasional longer trips. It asked how often I would use this service.
From what I'm hearing about the Leaf and its battery woes, I'm not sure I'm interested. The city I live in gets pretty hot. I have a short commute (6.5 miles), so I'm considering a short-range plug-in hybrid as well as a Leaf.
2011 Nissan LEAF prototype
2011 Nissan LEAF prototype
The lesson I've learned as an early hybrid adopter was to wait. I've had to have both transmission repairs and a replacement battery, thankfully under warranty.
We suspect that deeper engagement with its hand-raisers is one of several new initiatives Nissan will take to kick-start Leaf electric car sales, before the mildly updated 2013 Leaf is launched later this fall.
Job One for Leaf assembly at Nissan's Smyrna, Tennessee, plant is scheduled for December.
That plant can build up to 150,000 Leafs per year, but with just 4,228 sold through August, some radical action will be required to "move the metal."
In the short term, Nissan is offering heavily discounted lease rates of $219 a month on 2012 Leafs.
New staff will also be working on the Leaf in the U.S. after the long-planned retirement of Leaf product manager Mark Perry and the promotion of PR manager Katherine Zachary to run Leaf communications in Europe.
Nissan has already announced that it will launch a Leaf Advisory Board, to be led by respected electric-car advocate Chelsea Sexton.
2011 Nissan Leaf
More staff announcements are expected this week.
Meanwhile, here's the text of the note Nissan sent to its Leaf hand-raisers, asking them to participate in the survey:
In the past, you have shown interest in the 100-percent electric, zero-emission Nissan LEAF.
Nissan is looking to understand if you continue to have an interest in the Nissan LEAF and whether you have any concerns regarding the LEAF and or electric vehicle technology in general.
If you already own a Nissan LEAF we would appreciate your feedback on a potential offer to current owners.
The information you provide will assist in directing how Nissan communicates with consumers and helps us build and improve upon our vehicles.
Most importantly, the information gathered from these surveys allows us the opportunity and privilege to serve you, the consumer, with the best experience possible.