Looking for Nissan's Inflection Point on Electric Cars
Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn, delivering the keynote address Wednesday at the New York International Auto Show, said he's "not changing his bullish" outlook on zero-emissions cars. He warned reporters afterwards not to take one or two months of sales results as an indication of the promise of electric car technology or his commitment to it. But production and sales numbers, at some point, are going to have to seriously increase, if Ghosn is going to make good on his words.
Ghosn is holding firm to his view that by 2020, electric cars will command about 10 percent of total auto sales in major mature global markets, like US, Europe, and Japan.
Yet, for the first few months of 2012, LEAF sales in the US have been modest, only around 500 or 600 sales each month. Katherine Zachary, a spokesperson for Nissan USA, told PluginCars.com yesterday that global sales of the LEAF are "just over 27,000."
Current Growth Rate
Last July, Ghosn said that more than 10,000 electric Nissan LEAF vehicles had been sold worldwide. By the end of November, LEAF sales had surpassed 20,000 units. And adding the 954 LEAF sales reported in the US in December easily pushes the global number above 21,000.
Though pinpointing exact sales in Japan is difficult, the latest numbers (through the end of February 2012) show that at least 12,395 LEAFs have been sold in Japan. For the sake of comparison, US sales of the Nissan LEAF stood at 10,847 units at the end of February 2012.
Europe accounts for about 15 percent of total Nissan sales—for all vehicles, not specifically EVs. Nissan sells the LEAF in 14 European markets and plans to have 700 dealers selling the car by the end of this month. The company announced plans to install charging stations at all its 1,000 European dealers and will give 400 quick-charging stations to various communities in an effort to broaden the EV-charging infrastructure throughout the continent.
Correct my math if I'm off, but it appears that Nissan is below 2,000 global sales a month, with an approximate 55/45 split favoring Japan versus the US, a modest number of additional sales in Euope. We'll see if this fairly steady pattern continues throughout 2012 and 2013, even as Nissan adds electric models.
Making a Run for It
Here's the key question: When will Nissan make a break for it, and try to pull dramatically ahead of any competition, and make a serious run at reaching double-digits of zero-emissions cars for even its own sales? 2013? 2015? It will be fascinating to see how production capacity of cars and batteries in Tennessee will affect US sales, to determine if the EV market is strictly constrained by lack of product—and if there are plenty of buyers only if carmakers will put EVs into the market.
Toyota scrapped plans to produce Prius in the US, especially after looking March sales numbers. Its Prius line of four hybrid models (including the Prius Plug-in Hybrid) reached 28,711 sales. That could be a good target for Nissan. The question is when we will see those numbers posted for Nissan EVs.
Ghosn suggested yesterday that having 27,000 LEAFs all connected to Nissan's data center in Tokyo is providing a major advantage to the company in terms of understanding driving patterns and plan for the future. That sounds good, but how much data is really needed—especially when Nissan's chief is full of confidence that the market is there. If Mr. Ghosn's is truly confident, and not just exhibiting bravado, then the time for him to step on the gas (uh, electrons) on production and sales should be quickly approaching.
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