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Nissan LEAF – Finally, a High Volume EV

Nissan is poised to launch a full electric vehicle, LEAF (Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable, Family car), in the United States that it plans to sell in very high volumes. Does the product stand up to its high volume plans?
Styling Just Short of Weird Nissan North America Director of Product Planning, Mark Perry responded to a question concerning the styling of the new Nissan LEAF as “unusual without being weird. Our stylists wanted a distinctive car but not one that was so weird looking it would put off people.” Finally, a company admits that people driving an alternative fuel vehicle want to be noticed. They want for their friends and neighbors to give them credit for being on the cutting edge, being environmentally conscious and taking an innovative risk.
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Huge Pricing Incentives to Stimulate Sales Offsetting the risk is the price of the LEAF. Starting at around $32,500, early buyers qualify for a government tax credit of $7,500. If you lease the LEAF (more on that later), the tax credit goes to the lessor and effectively becomes a cap cost reduction. If you buy the LEAF, you get your tax credit the next time you file your income taxes. If you live in any one of several states, you get a tax rebate. In California, for instance, you get a $5,000 rebate – they’ll send you a check in the mail. If you are lucky enough to live in Fresno, you can get another $4,000. That brings the price of the down to around $16,000 – about the price of an equipped Versa. You end up getting the battery system, navigation system, etc essentially for FREE.

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80% Expected to be Leased Nissan expects about 80% of the early LEAF acquirers to lease their LEAF. After assigning the $7,500 tax credit to NMAC (Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation), the lease fee will be $349 or $369 per month depending on model. The lease period is 3-years/36,000 miles.
In addition to the incentives from federal, state and local governments, there is a tax credit of up to $2,000 available for the purchase of an in-home charging station. Nissan arranges for an in-home inspection when the LEAF is ordered and by the time the car is delivered the charging station is in place.
So, financially, the LEAF could be a winning proposition – at least for the early buyers who qualify for all the incentives before they go away. Additionally, in California a pure EV like the LEAF qualifies for a carpool lane sticker. The carpool lane stickers for selected hybrids expire on December 31, 2010. The EV stickers go through 2015. These stickers proved to be worth about $4,500 to the price of a used Toyota Prius hybrid a few years back.
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Electric Vehicle Downsides The LEAF is a real car. It is big enough. It has enough passenger and cargo room for most people. Its performance is acceptable even when merging aggressively onto a freeway (not neck-snapping acceleration, but not unsafe). So, given how attractive the LEAF is financially, why wouldn’t everybody want one?
Range Anxiety The primary reasons folks will shy away from the LEAF or any pure electric vehicle are range anxiety and time to charge. The LEAF has a cruising range of about 100 miles under the LA4 fuel economy cycle. This can vary wildly based on driving style, temperature, terrain, condition of the battery, etc. Probably range can vary between 60 and 140 miles.
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Plan Ahead for Charging Charging time is based on how much juice can be thrown at the car at any one time. If you have a $50,000 AeroVironment DC Fast Charger in your home, you can achieve 80% of charge in 30-minutes. Those are going to be very, very rare. If you have a typical $2,000+ charger (Level II) in your garage charging time will be about 8-hours. With only household current (Level 1), it will take about 20-hours to fully charge the LEAF. Ugh.
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Ambitious Volume Objectives OK, LEAF is a real car and an EV to boot. It is well thought-out, well made and has a huge early price advantage. Nissan North America has to fight for its share of 50,000 LEAFs for 2011 and 2012. While NNA won’t divulge their forecast of LEAF sales, AutoPacific forecasts sales of about 15,000 in 2011, 25,000 in 2012 and up to 50,000 units in 2015.
This takes into consideration that Nissan has received a $1.4 billion federal loan guarantee to install LEAF capacity of 150,000 units at its huge Smyrna, TN assembly plant that comes on line in the 2012 calendar year. [The loan, which originated through the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program office, was issued as part of the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, a $25 billion program authorized by Congress as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.] (Nissan is also adding a large capacity increment at its plant in the UK). Clearly, our volume forecasts are well below Nissan’s. This is based on the relatively low initial acceptance EVs will likely enjoy; the real spectre of range anxiety, time to charge and lack of freedom inherent in operating an EV.
While LEAF is by far the most marketable of the early EVs, we believe these factors will limit its sales in the USA.

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