Earthquake, Electric Car Delays and What Really Matters

By · March 21, 2011

Plugging Chevy Volt

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan might delay delivery of some Nissan LEAFs, but should be put in perspective of the human and global economic impact of the catastrophe.

Note from Brad Berman, Editor: The volume of exciting electric car news is accelerating. Some of the headlines are very encouraging, but other stories—getting just as much play—are not much more than EV buzz for buzz sake. So, I asked Chelsea to help us sort out the wheat from the chaff by pointing out a handful of stories that deserve some attention. Take it away, Chelsea...


It’s inevitable news and to no one's surprise: The recent earthquake and aftermath in Japan is reverberating throughout the auto industry, including various plug-in car programs. The full effects are still being assessed, but Nissan last week had to halt production of several production plants, including that which builds the Leaf. But then news came over the weekend that Nissan will restart production at five of six plants, including Oppama where LEAF is produced. Other reports said it was “partly operational.”

It is unclear whether or not the Chevrolet Volt will be affected, but it's possible that supply of the Japanese-built transmission may be stalled.

Other programs have yet to publicly specify if and how they're impacted, but it's safe to assume that most will be, to varying degrees. The Japanese built Mitsubishi i is the next likely candidate, but in a global industry, damage to smaller suppliers will still have an effect up the chain of American and European cars.

Of course, this both matters and doesn't in the grand scheme. I admit to having been horrified to see a few people's first reaction to the quake be "but what will this do to my LEAF delivery timing?" At the same time, there is no separating this industry from the overall economic recovery that must now happen.


Shouldn't be news: Lots of folks have been spun up this week over the fact that a marketing study "discovered" that consumers are confused by hybrid and plug-in technology, even after ten years of hybrids having been available. Broadly speaking, they don't know that hybrids use both electricity and gas, that they have batteries on board, or that plug-in hybrids can run on battery power alone (though it remains to be seen how much they do as a class.) After all the backhanded "you don't have to plug it in" advertising done by Honda and Toyota over the years, I'm not surprised people don't fully comprehend the role of electricity in a hybrid. But really, who cares that they don't? Sure, I've had my share of Prius drivers insist that they drive electric cars, but how many gas car owners do you know that could explain specifically how they operate either?

Yes, we need more consumer education, including in the different "flavors" of electrified vehicles. But we also need to have some perspective. This is not news. And when it comes to marketing, mainstream consumers care much more about what a car does than how it does it.


Quick Hits

  • Dubious news: BYD followed up last week's Wikileaks news with intentions to launch in the US in late 2011. I know Brad was reasonably impressed with his test drive, but I can't help but feel skeptical about this one for now.
  • Just for fun: I'm curious to see how it moves from concept to production, but the Fido scooter looks rather promising.
  • At long last: Revenge of the Electric Car has a premiere date!


· · 7 years ago

Good point on the "how it works" bit. It would be interesting to discover just what percentage of today's drivers know how an internal combustion engine works.... and how that combustion can produce over 20 pounds of C02 from one gallon of gasoline! And not knowing all that hasn't stopped people from buying gas cars, certainly. Makes you go, "hmmm."

- Darell, EVnut

· · 7 years ago

Chels: I think I'd describe my feelings as disappointed rather than horrified to hear how some people's first reaction was to ask how this will effect the delivery of their LEAF.

Two things to consider:
First, the "how does this directly impact me" mindset is prevalent in many minds. My restaurant is about 12 miles from NYC and we watched the towers fall from the hill behind the building. I remember the next day someone calling me to ask if the food for party they booked in two weeks would still be made or if they needed to find another caterer.
Second, Nissan has botched the initial delivery process and people are waiting much longer than they initially thought they would have to. The communication has been very poor and some folks really have no idea when they'll be getting their car. If this tragedy is going to add another 3 or 4 months to their wait than maybe they need to find an alternative or temporary solution.

Mind you, I am not making any excuses for anyone that looks past the tragedy and suffering going on in Japan to wonder about their own "inconvenience". I'm just not horrified by it, I'm disappointed.

As for the confusion, adding the term EREV to the mix didn't help any!

· · 7 years ago

Darell - When you consider "full fuel cycle," the numbers grows beyond 25 pounds of CO2 per gallon. Agreed that it's hard to get most important messages through--in a way that is truly relevant to consumers. Which brings in Tom's point about "direct impact to me."

Maybe it's time to get the community to start working on a Plug-in Manifesto (wiki style) to develop the messages and key points that would really mean something to people? Worth experimenting with this?
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· JJJJJJ (not verified) · 7 years ago

1) The dangers of putting all your manufacturing eggs in one regional basket. This goes for all industries, especially those who outsource everything to China. If China gets hit with a disaster (natural or political) most US companies are 100% screwed. Nike, Apple, Dell etc....

Car manufacturers and other industries would be smarter to follow the approach of companies like VW, which have factories in China, for China, in Brazil, for Brazil, in Germany, for Germany etc.

2) I understand the confusion, especially with the volt. It's a hybrid, but not THAT hybrid. They really should have picked a different name.

· · 7 years ago

"Toyota Motor said Tuesday that it is extending a halt on full vehicle production in Japan through March 26 as it and other major manufacturers try to recover from the effects of this month's earthquake.

Meanwhile, three of Nissan's four Japanese plants were up and running again Monday, although their capabilities were limited to producing auto parts. Nissan plans to resume full vehicle production on Wednesday."

· · 7 years ago

'I admit to having been horrified to see a few people's first reaction to the quake be "but what will this do to my LEAF delivery timing?" '

Yes, but a small minority.

Also statements like "Screw the car and deliveries. I hope that people are OK."

· · 7 years ago

Yes, a minority. As with other things, it's the anomalies that stick out the most.

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