Nissan Addresses Slow LEAF Launch, Says Expectations Could Have Been Better Managed

By · January 13, 2011


A Nissan LEAF making its way along the assembly line in Oppama, Japan.

If there's anything that most every person in the initial group of LEAF orderers is, it's passionate. Sure they all come from a large range of different backgrounds and offer a swath of political bents—but their passion is what drove them to be the first in line. So it hasn't been all that surprising that the passion of some has driven them to become increasingly critical of what they say is a lack of transparency on Nissan's part about why the initial deliveries of Nissan LEAFs were so slow.

To be fair, reactions among first orderers have ranged from a willingness to cut Nissan some slack during the global launch of the world's first mass-produced and affordable all-electric car to rumors of a conspiracy to delay deliveries for a variety of reasons including: "Nissan cares more about Japanese deliveries than the U.S. ones" and "The initial crop of LEAFs had a wiring problem which was secretly corrected on the docks." Whatever the reasons for the slow ramp up in LEAF deliveries, it is now clear that there is a growing group of Nissan LEAF orderers who say they are going to jump ship or have become completely fed up with the process. And with the unveiling of the Ford Focus Electric this week, some have said they are now more ready than ever to abandon their LEAF orders.

I had a chance to talk about this topic with Brian Carolin, Nissan's Senior Vice President of Sales, on the sidelines of the Detroit Auto Show the week. Carolin was absolutely dead serious when discussing any of the conspiracy theories that are out there, saying that there were no issues with rewiring or dock repairs. "I can assure you we haven't had cars stockpiled at docks," he said to PluginCars.com in an interview. "The fact is there simply weren't cars on a boat. They were just taking their time in Japan to make sure everything was perfect. We're at the leading edge of technology and the engineers just wanted to make sure that the car was absolutely spot on."

"In Hindsight, Maybe We Could Have Lowered Expectations a Little Bit More"

Carolin also said they were overwhelmed by the initial and unexpectedly large interest they received and struggled with how to balance marketing with the sales and output reality. "We probably gave an expectation of availability which in hindsight was too early," said Carolin. "Our engineers are incredibly crucial and they want to make sure that every [LEAF] coming out of the gate is absolutely right. The rate of climb has been probably a little slower than you'd expect."

"It's a balance," said Katherine Zachary, Nissan spokesperson. "There are expectations that are out there, but we also needed awareness. We had to build awareness for this product, and it's had much more of an education component than with anything else Nissan has done. As a result we had to deal with the fact that it caught wildfire in the process—it was sort of a byproduct—but given the choice of how to balance those interests, we needed people to know about it."

Carolin said that deliveries are now ramping up and Nissan hopes this will settle people's angst on the topic, but that Nissan has tried communicate delivery timing as "realistically" as possible. "We're trying to respond as much as we can on an individual basis where people are raising their hand and expressing angst," he said. "We've got a very well structured call center, and even some of my team in the office will step in when someone is really 'angsty' and that helps a lot."

Non-Traditional Sales Model Caused Some Confusion

Nissan knew there was going to be an excess of demand for the LEAF and tried to address issues related to that by "keeping everything tight in the center," as Carolin said. By instituting the online reservation system Nissan wanted to establish a democratic delivery process where the first in line got the vehicle first.

"The traditional way of selling cars is you wholesale them to the dealers, and then frankly it's a bit of a free-for-all," said Carolin going on to remark that they did take this element of control away from the dealers. "I think the downside [to LEAF sales process] is that the dealers who are often talking to customers can't always see inside the box—so I can understand the feeling that the process is opaque. It's new for them and it's new for us, but I'm confident—particularly in this first launch here—that the benefits will far outweigh the downside."

"I think in five to six months time this will be kind of behind us," said Carolin, adding that in six to twelve month's time the supply might be high enough to revert to a traditional model where the dealers are in complete control. "Knowing the supply was going to be very short, we said every car coming off the boat is going to be customer-tagged," said Carolin. "With 1,100 dealers we could have soaked up a lot of the early production just getting them out to the dealers. We said to the dealer network we weren't going to do that and that the customer was going to take priority. We'd have had dead inventory on the ground and people getting very agitated that they weren't getting the cars."

"We've Had Some Cancellations, But Nothing Very Significant"

Although some within the community of early LEAF orderers have said they are going to jump ship and abandon their LEAF orders because of delayed delivery times, Carolin says they haven't seen that materialize yet. "We've had some cancellations, but nothing very significant," he said. "We have people that continue to take firm orders after placing a reservation and we continue to release them to go to the dealer level and make them available—that's continuing at pace. We're fortunate that the cancellation numbers have been pretty small."

Comments

· · 3 years ago

I do not understand why people are upset - it is a totally new revolutionary product - delays should be expected.
Cars are dangerous - you have to make sure that the car is perfect before you allow it to the road.

· Michael Walsh (not verified) · 3 years ago

I have my car now, and I'm HUGELY happy with it - it exceeds every expectation I had. However, the build and delivery process could have been way more transparent (think Mini as an example). For my dealer to not know when HE'S getting cars until the day before they show up.....especially when we ALL knew the boat they were on arrived in port and offloaded two weeks earlier (come on Nissan, you 'aint foolin' us there!). Well, it all seems a bit silly.

· Andrew (not verified) · 3 years ago

I ordered my car last week, and was told, as everyone is being told, "you will get the car in 4-7 months".

We still don't have an answer for why the delivery date is anywhere from 4 - 7 months out. Why don't they know its 5 months, or 4 or 5 months, or 7 months. Between 4 and 7 months is an almost 100% error in your estimate, and that is what is ridiculous. I don't care if you tell me its 7 months, just tell me that's what it is. Telling me its between 4 and 7 months just tells me you don't know what you're doing or that you're hiding something.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

I'm on the list twice. Paid my $99 on April 20th and have been told only that I'm in line for my area. Late 2011 or early 2012. I have a delivery scheduled for the car I ordered with a CA address and yes, it makes me cranky that the car I ordered second will probably be a YEAR ahead of the one I put up money for on DAY 1. When I show up at the Dealer, I will complain LOUDLY if they put up a stink about an out of CA sale. That puppy is off the lot and back on a truck :) Easy for the guy WITH a car to be happy.....

· Stephen Taylor (not verified) · 3 years ago

I was initially upset that I couldn't even order the Leaf until late Summer 2011, but after I thought about it, it probably was for the best. By late Summer, I will have a better idea what the other EV makers are really doing and decide whether to stick with the Leaf reservation or wait for another vehicle that might meet my desires a little better. Yes, I think the odds are high that I will go with something other than a Leaf, but that decision won't be made until Nissan tells me it is time to order.

· sjLEAF (not verified) · 3 years ago

@Michael Walsh: I am glad you got your car and enjoyed the videos of your first commute. Mine will be almost identical, i.e., 4 miles of surface streets followed by 28 miles of freeway. In my more philosophical moments, I tell myself that my frustration with Nissan's process will be gone within a couple weeks of my delivery. Has that happened for you yet?

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

Don't hold your breath on EV deliveries. I just canceled my Aptera reservation after waiting 2.5 years and the Myers Motors Duo is almost a year late. Hopefully, my Leaf will come this year. If not, it's time to build an EV myself.

· Alan (not verified) · 3 years ago

I think you may have a little better luck with the Leaf over the Aptera :)

I like the look of that Myers Duo - a small 3 wheeled two seater if affordable would make a nice commuter. With the leaf and its rebate selling for $25K - where does this leave the $25,000 Duo?!

The Nissan Leaf has pretty much put these independent ev makers on notice - if not out of business!

· Another Alan (not verified) · 3 years ago

As hard as it is for me to wait for my delivery, I have to congratulate Nissan for doing their first deliveries via this "customer focused" process. I shudder to think of what would have happened had they gone with the traditional model...only celebrities and the filthy rich would have cars for the first three years, because they had an "in" with the dealer and were willing to pay the $20,000 over MSRP that the dealers would almost certainly have gouged.

I for one am willing to (semi-)patiently wait for my turn in the queue. Meantime I'm SO enjoying the posts on the forums by the new owners. Keep 'em coming!

· · 3 years ago

Anonymous,

First Alan's right. Nissan is in a completely different league than Aptera and Myers Motors. One of those companies is a profitable multinational corporation with decades of success and a HUGE global manufacturing base, the other two lie somewhere in between fraudulent waste of investor money and struggling start-up with a slim chance of success.

The LEAFs will come. It will take a year before everybody has access to them and probably 1-2 years before there is no wait time at all, but they are coming. I can assure you Nissan is in this for the long haul.

· Michael Walsh (not verified) · 3 years ago

sjLeaf...any frustrations I had last month are water under the bridge. Though I completely understand the ones of those still waiting, and empathize completely.

· George Parrott (not verified) · 3 years ago

Nick,
"Deliveries are now ramping up" is a very factual statement when the base is so low, e.g. only 2 cars delivered in 2010 according to the Nissan LEAF forum records. However, PLEASE, PLEASE , PLEASE try to be more aggressive in your questioning of these guys and gals. They are there to cover their butts when things go awry, and it is obvious that something is crucially not working like NISSAN planned with the production and delivery process.

Nick, Nissan took 200 orders on Day 1; they assured us for two months that cars would be delivered in December yet they could only produce two cars for December delivery. Doesn't that clearly tell you that something is wrong.

Yes, they are getting cars out NOW, but it is a trickle compared to what GM is doing with the Volt. My Volt is in the garage here (VIN #679) and I see VIN numbers around 1000 already on railcars moving to customers. The Volt has been "in production a month less than the LEAF, yet GM has roughly 25-30 TIMES more cars actually in customer's hands. Doesn't this clearly tell you that NISSAN is covering up a production PROBLEM with the LEAF?

It shouts that conclusion to me, but maybe I am just totally unfair to Mother Nissan?

· · 3 years ago

George, I give up. Clearly nothing I find out or write besides the answer you want to hear will ever be good enough for you.

· George Parrott (not verified) · 3 years ago

Nick,
Of course you shouldn't "give up," but rather keep being attentive to what is really "news" and not corporate smoke and fog. The LEAF is an impressive piece of engineering, or so I understand, but Nissan Corporate are absolutely not giving you and us the full story on what is going on.

For Nissan to be "in production" a month longer than GM with the Volt, and yet have so few cars worldwide get to customers should be a solid piece of "circumstantial evidence" that they have a production problem. GM has produced and delivered over a 1000 of the Volt vehicle (or at least that number are "off the holding lot" at the factory in Detroit) in the time that Nissan has gotten maybe 50 cars to customers across the world.

Both of us will continue to wait for our new LEAF vehicles, but we should be doing this with our eyes wide open for further Nissan "delivery games." That Nissan has a "good idea" with the LEAF is not a point of debate, but it is HOW Nissan executes and effects that "good idea" that seems to be my question.

· · 3 years ago

George, you misunderstand. I'm not giving up in general, but I am giving up on trying to provide you with the information you seek as it is quite clear that you have an exact idea of the answers you want and won't be satisfied with anything else. What I can tell you is that from my interaction with Nissan there is absolutely no indication of any lack of the whole story. If you don't believe me, fine, but I can't provide you with the answers you seek and are clearly convinced exist.

Part of what Nissan said to me, that I didn't include in the post, was that GM's situation is quite a bit different in that they are building the cars in the U.S. for exclusive U.S. distribution. Nissan is building LEAFs in Japan for global distribution. This, more than anything, is what has kept LEAFs from rolling out as easily as the Volts initially did. I can see that and it makes perfect sense.

50 cars I believe is an understatement at this point. GM also started building Volts in October and was stockpiling them for shipment at the end of December. They had several hundred of them already sitting in lots by the time they started delivering them. Nissan only began production of the LEAF in December, so the fact that they even got some to folks in the same month is impressive. Nissan's monthly output of LEAFs is roughly twice that of Volt, so it's only a matter of time before the number of LEAFs sold surpasses the number of Volts sold. I think your conspiracy theory is a non-starter.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

I thought leaf production began October 22nd?

· · 3 years ago

Anonymous, you're right. To be more specific, the number of LEAFs rolling off assembly lines in Japan didn't reach any significant level until December due to Nissan taking it very slowly and Japanese engineers crossing every t and dotting every i. When I visited the Volt factory in Michigan in mid-October they already had what appeared to be a hundred or so Volt's sitting in a lot. Sorry to misrepresent actual start dates.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

I am buying a LEAF. However, I don't think Nissan is doing a good job with the rollout. I think the LEAF is an impressive car, and I think Nissan in general is a good company - but I get the impression they are screwing this one up from a customer service standpoint.

· SeattleBlueLeaf (not verified) · 3 years ago

Nick - first off - thank you for asking the questions in Detroit. Great work as always.

I wanted to respond with my personal account of the purchase process through today and how that process contributes to unnecessary ankst.

1) See car in Seattle in December of 2009 - can't wait to buy one. Can't touch this one.
2) Reserve on 4/20/10
3) negotiate pricing, etc.. as it became available to us and dealers started popping up with "deals".
4) Order on 8/31/10
5) Delivery month of "January" appears in dashboard 11/22/10
6) EV Project folks show up in early December - tell me my car is coming soon and we have to put this Clipper Creek unit in because our Blink isn't ready. - 12/9/10 installed.
7) forget exact date but dashboard goes to "Week of Jan 21" at some point in here.
8) Dashboard goes back to "Pending" - 12/19/10
9) I ask Nissan support folks - why is dashboard Pending - is my car off the ship? Response - cars go through Telematics check after landing - and congrats your car is almost here... 12/23/10
10) 1/1/11 - Cal residents start taking delivery
11) 1/6/11 - Dashboard says Delivery week of 1/25
12) 1/8/11 - Dashboard sayse Delivery week of 1/21/11

So - overall Nissan is likly going to deliver me a car exactly when they originally said they would. I believe this is true for all of us - I don't believe Nissan promised anyone a delivery sooner than they actually got it.

But - the confounding part for me is what the heck is going on with a car that takes a month to delivery from a Port to a Dealer? And I think that is where way too much speculation on my part (and others) starts to occur. Just wish I had more insight because that is the type of person I am.

As for the purchase process Nissan decided to use - I could not be more pleased. If these cars were being sold the way GM is selling Volts - I'd have to pay 10K more (at least) from dealer profiting. That much of a jump in price gets me out of the EV purchase for at least another year. Thank you Nissan for selling this way!!

· evnow (not verified) · 3 years ago

@George no doubt Volt has ramped up faster than Leaf. Only time will tell whether the QC is same on both. One thing we know is GM is less automated, that helps them ramp up faster. But it will be difficult for them to increase the production later or get 3 or 4 factories building the cars. Or building 3 or 4 different cars on the same assembly line.

The comparison is not as valid as you think.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

@evnow, the Volt is already built on a line with two other cars. The Buick Lucerne and the Cadillac DTS. I don't think GM is that less automated than any other manufacture. The plant is capable of building 200k cars a year of mixed product, so they have to be pretty automated to turnout those kind of numbers.

I think the difference is we've seen Volts in all stages from concept to mules to production validation to production. Hundreds of Volts were built over the summer for production validation. We didn't really see any of this for the Leaf. Just a promise in a couple years they would be builting 500k Leafs. I don't know where people might get the idea that they would have built more cars by now. GM's is increasing their volume for the 2011 model year (i.e. under promise, over deliver).

· · 3 years ago

Brian Carolin said, "I can assure you we haven't had cars stockpiled at docks," he said to PluginCars.com in an interview. "The fact is there simply weren't cars on a boat."
Well a screen scape of my dealers dashboard says otherwise. The first batch of roughly 50 LEAFs arrived at the Port of LA on 12/20 and most remained there for 2 to 3 weeks before being transported to dealerships. Nissan's own customer service was stating the "vehicles are being held pending port modifications". Kinda tells me they were sitting at the dock.

"In Hindsight, Maybe We Could Have Lowered Expectations a Little Bit More" Well...there ya go, lower expectations. How about instead you strive to execute. You should write a business book, "In search of lowered expectations".

Katherine Zachary, Nissan spokesperson, "There are expectations that are out there, but we also needed awareness. We had to build awareness for this product..."
What logic is there in building demand for a product you can't fulfill? At the end of the day you have spent a lot of money advertising only to upset potential customers. Walk me through your logic.

"I think in five to six months time this will be kind of behind us," said Carolin.
Really? Based on what? Here's one from six months ago. In Aug 2010, there were no photos or descriptions available from Nissan for the LEAFs accessories. Six months later the situation is the same. Hmmm it didn't fix itself and no one cared to fix it.

· JJJ (not verified) · 3 years ago

How long do cars usually take to clear docks? I assume there is some kind of customs check required?

· SeattleBlueLeaf (not verified) · 3 years ago

@indyflick - accessories are available for view in the digital brochure. The link is available on the home page when you login.

I agree that asking customers to commit to accessory purchases before knowing what they look like was a mistake. Especially for the Eco package. I am glad I didn't order it and feel sorry for those that did. The monster letters on the side of the car and blue center console are not my cup of tea. I also feel lucky to have ordered the cargo organizer as it turned out to be much nicer than I originally imagined and I see that lots of others purchasers appear interested in it as well. On the positive side - this only impacted a small number of us that are early 8/31 and 9/1 orders.

Overall - between the drive tour, the marketing materials and the real delivery of cars - I am very impressed with Nissan's rollout and give them big kudos. I'll be a proud LEAF driver for years to come (once I get my car next week).

· · 3 years ago

Be happy that your in markets that are first. I am in West Palm Beach FL and they are telling me an order date of Late Summer 2011. I asked if I will still get the 2011 model. Nissan had no answers. Nick, will Nissan suddenly change the year of the model ay a certain time? I would love to have a 2011 model with only 2 to 3 months left in 2011.

· lonndoggie (not verified) · 3 years ago

Probably a good time to give the Nissan execs another call. See this thread on MyNissanLeaf.com: http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=2443

Several who had March as their delivery date on their Leaf dashboard have now gone to April. Several of those folks are saying "If it doesn't come by April th (where is early in the month), then we're past that 4-7 month window." One has to wonder what is up with that.

Nissan needs to make money on this, I assume. Hand-tweaking or QCing each car, for days, isn't a sustainable business model. Is that really what's happening, or...what?

And yes, I'm waiting for mine--ordered 10/7, my delivery date is, and will likely remain for many moons yet, "pending".

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

Speaking as one of those folks who's gone from January to February to March and now April, Nissan has until June to deliver a car, or I'll just wait for a Ford Focus EV, or a C-Max Plug-in.

Options are good. Soon we will have many.

· · 3 years ago

Anonymous,

Of course frustration breeds resentment and the desire to jump ship out of a sense of "revenge" or something similar, but I can tell you that if you really want an EV soon, jumping the LEAF ship now won't get you a vehicle any sooner. Ford doesn't have any plans to scale like Nissan plans to. If you think getting a LEAF is hard/frustrating, you'll be sure to find the same thing with any Ford EV or any other EV for that matter. The car industry doesn't work like the smartphone industry. Ramp ups take time.

I do empathize with your frustration, but I have a feeling that most of the folks who are finding every internet forum they can to say something similar to what you are saying are really just venting their frustration in the only way they can... and that venting will likely be the end of it. I seriously don't think anybody with a modicum of wisdom will make the decision to pull out of a Nissan LEAF order, especially since it doesn't cost you anything extra until they day you take delivery. And if they call you on the day it's your turn to take delivery and you say "no thanks," there will be thousands more people ready to step in and take your car. Then what? You'll have to wait until Ford delivers your car, which could be late 2012.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

@Nick Chambers

My purchase of the Nissan LEAF is completely discretionary. I really don't need the thing. I'm not even sure that it's a good idea for me or the planet. I just like the idea of an electric car to run around town and I can afford the $30+ large I'm expected to pay.

As with any discretionary item, the longer I (and others) have to think about it, the less likely it is to be purchased.

Your presumptuous attitude about my "wisdom" is uncalled for. Did it occur to you that I might like the look of the Ford Focus EV enough to cancel my order and wait. Or maybe it's the shorter charging time, or Ford My Touch, or a number of other things such as a free EVSE in my area that are making the LEAF look less attractive--assuming that is even possible.

Of course I could be like some other fellow committed to "population issues, animal cruelty, women's rights and many other issues," and buy it, take the tax credit and flip it. That would prove my commitment to something, I suppose.

· · 3 years ago

Anonymous,

I'm not sure why you think it's a presumptuous attitude. I didn't presume much of anything about why you're buying the car or what you think of its looks. My point, which is still valid, is that it doesn't make much sense to cancel an order for a vehicle that you don't have to pay anything for until the moment you take delivery. That is in no way tied to presumptions about anything else, and if you, or anybody else, cancels an order in June simply because you haven't gotten your car yet and now you want to wait another year to get on somebody else's list, it seems unwise. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone on that opinion. If you cancel your order because you simply don't want the car anymore (due to looks, driver interface, or other actual features of a given vehicle), why wait until June? By laying down an ultimatum like "you've got until such and such time or I'm taking my money elsewhere" implies a revenge motive. If you truly have issues with the driver interface or the looks, that's certainly a reason to look elsewhere, but when you tie it to a timeframe for delivery it means you have other issues at play.

If you really are as unattached and uncommitted to the LEAF as you say you are, it doesn't make any sense to cancel your order in June. Even if they don't deliver it until November you can still keep your order live and decide at that point—and then you'll have a better idea of other EV availability and can make an informed decision. That's the part that seems unwise.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

@Nick Chambers

Revenge? For what? For playing Mr. Bungle with the US launch of your car? Note to Mark Perry, "Badges of Shame" look best when wearing SoCal Basic Black.

Nowhere did I say I was canceling my order. Do you really think I'd give a car dealer an excuse to rip off some dedicated environmentalist? (Nods head) According to information I have from Nissan, my car is in the pipeline to be manufactured. However, based upon previous mendacious pronouncements, that information is suspect at best.

"Taking my money elsewhere" means just that. If the car is here before day X and I'm still interested (and the CA $5K rebate is still available), fine.

If not, then the LEAF costs $5K more. Plus, I can sign up now for a Free EVSE (for which I will have to pay someone at least $1500 if I get the LEAF).

$6500 is real money down here in Smallville.

· curt (not verified) · 3 years ago

I'm sort of up in the air concerning the Leaf now. First, I did order one with the ECO package and the blue metallic flake console is atrocious (and they won't allow me to change that). Second, my delivery month slipped after another month. If they don't get it to me in the first week of April they will be pass their maximum time frame of 7 months, which I forecast probably will happen given their present track record. Originally, I was going to buy the Leaf and hold on to it for many years, but now I'm starting to think lease and dump it for another EV a couple years later. Nissan's handling of not showing the accessories prior to freezing the order and their lack of delivery delay feedback has left a bad taste in my mouth.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Electric Cars Pros and Cons
    EVs are a great solution for most people. But not everybody.
  2. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  3. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  4. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.
  5. The Ultimate Guide to Electric Car Charging Networks
    If you plan to charge in public, you'll want to sign up for charging network membership (or two).
  6. Electric Vehicle Charging for Businesses
    How do you ensure that electric car owners will be happy with every visit to your charging spot?
  7. How to Use the PlugShare EV Charging Station Tool
    Locate EV charging stations and optimize their use with a powerful mobile app.
  8. Quick Charging of Electric Cars
    Add 50 to 60 miles of range in about 20 minutes. Here's how.
  9. The Real Price of EV Public Charging
    Compare the cost of charging on the road to what you pay at home.
  10. Electric Vehicle Charging Etiquette
    Thou shalt charge only when necessary. And other rules to live by.