Looking for Nissan's Inflection Point on Electric Cars

By · April 04, 2012

Nissan LEAF

Worldwide sales of the Nissan LEAF now exceed 27,000 units.

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.

Comments

· Londo Bell (not verified) · 2 years ago

@ Brad,

He also said that the strong yen is hindering something (either production or sales, or both) on the Nissan LEAF. That is very true because countries outside of Japan are suffering from paying much more, just due to the currency.

Now, say, 21000 units in Dec. That means roughly 6000 units from Jan to Mar. So yes, a tad below the 2000 units/month, globally, but not by that much.

He did say that once the factories in US and UK are producing LEAF locally, there will be a significant cost reduction (and also a price change - though he didn't say whether it's going up or down, but hopefully down) at that time. If LEAF can be sold at around the 2011 price, then it will be a big kick in sales momentum here in the US.

OTOH, I don't know if the Prius # is good or not, because it looked bad the way you wrote it (Toyota decided not to build factories for Prius here). I believe that the internal competition within Toyota is too much at this point. 3 vehicles in the Prius line up, plus 2 in Lexus, that are pretty much same size. Not saying that people cross shop, but does Toyota really need that many? My guess is that the Prius C will have eaten a big chunk out of the Prius II, and a small bite out of the CT200.

Auto companies really need to start applying the HEV/PHEV/EV technology to 7-8 seats vehicle now. That market is HUGE!

· · 2 years ago

Ghosn was saying that the US price of the Leaf was inflated due to the exchange rate between USD and Yen. Does anybody whose better than me with exchange numbers know what the Japanese Leaf would cost in the US if the exchange rate were even - aka, what it might be when Leafs are built in Tennessee?

· · 2 years ago

@tterbo I'm really curious to know this as well.

· · 2 years ago

No mention of the Infiniti EV reveal tomorrow?

Do not under estimate Carlos Ghosn. He will reveal his playing cards at the appropriate time. He is setting up the Leaf in Japan, US and Europe so that currency rates (Yen primarily) are less of a factor. Currency with yen hovering around 80Y/$ is a huge factor given that I can remember 120Y/$. It is getting to a point where a American's cannot afford a Japanese made car. Thus all the plants located now in the U.S. and Mexico.
Vehicle cost are never finalized though until around launch timing. So should see numbers around December.

· · 2 years ago

Red Leaf: That's good news. :)

· · 2 years ago

Well despite the Leaf, or on the side of the Leaf, the sales figures this month for Volt and Prius Plugin are incredible. Who was saying in February, "Yeah I think they'll more than double next month, again."

I don't think there's any going back after those sales figures. As long as plugin hybrids have a steady home, there's plenty of room in 2nd for pure EVs. Granted, ideally it wouldn't be 2nd, but there's a big enough shadow to make some money. Plus if Leaf (and MiEV ?) can lower its price 'significantly' on the exchange rate alone, that can in no way hurt.

· · 2 years ago

Three areas are being looked at heavily. Charging time, range and cost. If you can get the range to maybe 200 miles and charge in say 10 to 15 minutes and keep vehicle cost reasonable; well it is over. Say good bye to oil and gas. Electricity is too cheap. When I run all month 800 miles on less then $20 that is hard to ignore.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

Without wishing to let Mr. Ghosen, Nissan, or the industry off the hook in the pursuit of continuing improvements in battery technology, it is probably time for owners of pure EVs like the LEAF to let the world know that EV technology is good enough for most people most of the time RIGHT NOW. Those for whom it isn't should not be complaining about the subsidies required to jumpstart the industry. If everyone who could benefit from EVs had one, the price of gas would drop through the floor. Traveling salesmen, diehard Hummer owners and anyone else who just can't let go of their internal combustion engines could have them. And with the money they save on gas they will be able to afford not just our EV purchase subsidies but a little something extra to compensate us for the inconvenience of having to rent a car or drive to the airport once or twice a year.

· world2Steven (not verified) · 2 years ago

Without wishing to let Mr. Ghosen, Nissan, or the industry off the hook in the pursuit of continuing improvements in battery technology, it is probably time for owners of pure EVs like the LEAF to let the world know that EV technology is good enough for most people most of the time RIGHT NOW. Those for whom it isn't should not be complaining about the subsidies required to jumpstart the industry. If everyone who could benefit from EVs had one, the price of gas would drop through the floor. Traveling salesmen, diehard Hummer owners and anyone else who just can't let go of their internal combustion engines could have them. And with the money they save on gas they will be able to afford not just our EV purchase subsidies but a little something extra to compensate us for the inconvenience of having to rent a car or drive to the airport once or twice a year.

· Warren (not verified) · 2 years ago

If you live in the 'burbs, in the US, and have only one car, a PHEV makes the most sense. If you live in town, a 55 mph NEV would make most sense, if they were legal here...rent a car for going to grandma's.

The Leaf is trying to be something it is not, a touring car. If you need an on-board navigation system for a car that has a 35 mile range radius from your front door, you shouldn't be driving!

Carlos Ghosn, give us a 500 kilogram, 10-12 kWh, two seat, town car for 18K!

· · 2 years ago

Welcome to the real world! Betting so much on EVs was a bold move, and we shall remain confident that EVs will win in the long term, but it will take decades, and not a few years as some have thought.

But this situation is good for Nissan. When the other car makers are looking at the Leaf's poor sales, it doesn't entice them to launch their own EVs. Nissan will remain the electric car leader for many years.

· william (not verified) · 2 years ago

I wonder how many more Prius vehicles Toyota could have moved last month if they were on the lot for sale? Dealer after dealer has no product in the NE area of the US...one dealer told me that the hot new C models have sold before they arrived at the dealer without so much as a test drive. How many people buy a car on the lot vs waiting the 8-14weeks to order one?

Ditto for the Volt and the Leaf...many markets just do not have the vehicles available for sale STILL after an alleged nationwide roll-out...the numbers will keep going up over time and holdouts waiting for the "more perfect" version will leave the sidelines. i.e. Volt can now drive in the HOV lane in CA, faster charger in the next revision of the Leaf, etc.

· Spec (not verified) · 2 years ago

I'm not sure what you want him to do. He can't put a gun to customer's heads and make them buy Leafs.

I think the best one can hope for is that reduced labor costs & shipping costs will allow the US produced Leaf to be a little cheaper and thus boosting sales. But other than that, it is up to the market.

· · 2 years ago

I think its far too easy to put a couple of months of so-so sales figures under the microscope and look too deeply into it. Look at the big picture here: approximately 28,000 Leafs on the road at this point. Has there ever been another EV that could make that claim?

Also . . . it was just a little over a year ago when many were wondering if the Leaf was really going to arrive. The rollout was slow and there were quite a few waiting on delivery. A major earthquake in Japan that spring put another hiccup in the supply chain. As noted above, supplies are still fickle in certain parts of the country and this phenomenon will probably continue until U.S. production ramps up.

But the car - a true, pure electric vehicle that is priced on par with a comparably equipped gasoline powered one - is generally available across the country. This was only a pipe dream a few short years ago.

· · 2 years ago

LEAF is already priced $4,000 less than Volt and maintenance is much less expensive than Volt still much more people bought Volt.

Bringing the price down could help but I think the biggest problem is the range.
Even if it is not range anxiety it is still very limited range in comparison to Volt.

· · 2 years ago

What Nissan needs to do is to produce $35,000 improved analog of Volt.
It is practically a zero emission vehicle - many people do not use any oil and it has unlimited range.
With they price of $35,000 Nissan will be selling 20,000 per month in US.

· · 2 years ago

Another thing to factor into the Leaf's possible wider adoption will be how wide and far we will see a Level 3 charging infrastructure spread across the U.S. highways in the next few years. Once this becomes more ubiquitous, many who are on the fence with the Leaf in regards to range might be swayed in that direction accordingly.

· · 2 years ago

Does anyone have an idea of the relative costs of level 3 charging stations vs. gas pumps? Even having to wait 30 minutes for an 80% charge is likely to be unacceptable to a population spoilled by the convenience of gasoline. Any real replacement for a gas station is going to have to have enough charging stations to insure that is the LONGEST a customer is going to have to wait. And with the LEAF's current range (s) he is going to have to fill up (i.e. Wait) 3 times as often as with an ICE powered car for the same range.
Then there is the grid infrastructure that would be required to support the hit caused by peak demand requirements. 'gas' stations will look like - and may have to be - the equivalent of mini power substations.

It sounds like improvements in battery energy densities may be on the horizon. That alone would make me nervous about investing a whole bunch of money in a high-tech A Better Place battery-swapping facility. It its beginning to sound like the only near-term solution for those for whom the range limitation of EV's is a show-stopper is a range-extending towable trailer.

About a year ago there was supposed to be something like this in the works from a third party for the LEAF and other EVs. Has anyone heard any more? As I recall, the vendor was going to pile on a whole bunch of extra battery capacity, adding considerably to the expense and weight. Is this really necessary? Why not just a towable generator?

· · 2 years ago

Red Leaf: Yeah I think 200 mile range plus $4.21, well even $3 gas would do it, with a price to, ironically, beat the gas Versa. Or just beat the more luxury cars.

· Bob119 (not verified) · 2 years ago

Why bother selling the Leaf or the Volt in the US at all? From a strictly economic stand point, it always seemed like the EV vehicles would do not break even until you get prices of about $5 per gallon. With that said, almost every country in Europe has gas prices from $7 to $9 per gallon.Japan $7. Nice reference:
http://www.mytravelcost.com/petrol-prices/
My point being, if you really want sales to take off, it won't be in the US.If the typical 'add on' cost for an EV is about $10000 to $15000, then the payback at $7 per gallon of gas would be three years.

I know the next arugument will be that it takes the same amount of energy, either gasoline or electric, to drive a vehicle. The big difference is that gasoline or diesel engines are very ineffient in moving a vehicle. Petroleum is only 30-40% efficient at turning the energy to movement of a car. EV battery-motor-movement is about 80% effiecient. So 10 kwh to 15 kwh is about the equivalent movement of a car to one gallon of gas. Not the 42kwh actual energy of one gallon of gasoline.What that translates to if you are paying about 10 cents per kilowatt/hour, is an equivalent gallon of gas will only cost you $1.00 to $1.50.

Finally, the argument that I get my electricity from either coal or natural gas, so it doesn't matter from a green house gas perspective what kind of vehicle I use. True, most of my electiciy comes from Wyoming coal. And turning coal to electricity is only about 30-40% efficient. However, two arguments. I would much rather get my fuel from Wyoming than the middle east. I think alot of soldiers would appreciate not having to risk there lives in the middle east. I personally think we have a much less chance of going to war with Wyoming than the middle east. Second, one of electricities biggest advantages, it can come from any power source. I don't have to get my electricity from coal. I can get the electricity from natural gas, wind, solar, nuclear.

I have a third party modified Prius II Plug in. So if anyone would like to debate the numbers, I have plenty. The modification is a horrible economic investment. About a 45 year payback, if nothing goes wrong. However, I love the Prius. With the modification I average about 65 miles to the gallon. The Leaf/Volt look perfect for the next step. Hope to get one soon.

· · 2 years ago

Some point-counterpoint to world2steven's comments (his in quotations):

"Does anyone have an idea of the relative costs of level 3 charging stations vs. gas pumps?"

No, but they seem to be getting cheaper . . .

http://www.abb.com/cawp/seitp202/5b2c04fec197236fc12579ce0028d0e8.aspx

http://www.plugincars.com/lux-research-predicts-battery-prices-will-drop...

$10,000+ may even be affordable enough for home use to those who are extremely well healed and, thus, don't have the requisite brain power to plug in at night and recharge via Level 2. All kidding aside regarding the regular ribbing I give to the super rich, these Level 3 units are inexpensive enough that many businesses can afford to buy multiple copies. Granted, you have to "fill" them with electricity. But retailers sell that electricity, presumably at a reasonable profit, and are able to buy more. I haven't prices gas pumps and related underground tanks needed to go with them, but I'm guessing they're not very cheap either.

"Even having to wait 30 minutes for an 80% charge is likely to be unacceptable to a population spoiled by the convenience of gasoline. Any real replacement for a gas station is going to have to have enough charging stations to insure that is the LONGEST a customer is going to have to wait."

Well, I'm not too worried that there's going to be these long lines of EVs, parked and waiting for hours at some ugly roadstop to use a single Level 3 charger. Not to say that this COULDN'T happen, but I don't think it will be the norm. The typical highway Level 3 charge depots of the future will probably have multiple examples of the above "affordable" chargers and be adjoined to the sort of restaurant/cafes we now see at roadside gas stations.

"Then there is the grid infrastructure that would be required to support the hit caused by peak demand requirements. 'gas' stations will look like - and may have to be - the equivalent of mini power substations."

The larger charging stations will certainly have be equipped to handle a lot of electricity. But this isn't to say that shipping container sized vanadium redox batteries couldn't be employed to store vast amounts of electricity on site and, thus, even out potential peak demand scenarios . . .

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110317141418.htm

Want to make those shipping container batteries look a little less industrial? Perhaps they can be buried (like we do today with fuel storage tanks at most gas stations) or, if that doesn't prove to be practical (flood concerns, etc.,) keep 'em above ground and dress up the exteriors with the help of an architect. Also . . . grid batteries like this make it easier to integrate renewable power sources that aren't generating 24/7 (wind, solar) into the mix.

You've got some validity to your point about today's impatient/spoiled gas pump user, but I don't think it's the death knell for using a pure electric vehicle for occasional highway travel . . . the operative word here being "occasional." Much the same way research has indicated that the typical city bound driver might only travel as much as 40 miles daily, that same driver probably only takes an out-of-town road trip a few times annually. Distance is another factor.

My most common longer distance point of destination is Phoenix, just about 100 miles from my home in Tucson. Maybe the family and I go up there three or four times a year. Given that there may some day be several strategically placed Level 3 stations along I-10, which connects these metro areas, could I make a single day round trip in an EV, such as a present day Leaf, a reality? The short answer is yes. For those who simply have to do it non-stop (folks who would be doing it several times a week or more,) the solution is already there: The Volt.

"It sounds like improvements in battery energy densities may be on the horizon. That alone would make me nervous about investing a whole bunch of money in a high-tech A Better Place battery-swapping facility."

I know I dissed the Better Place style battery swap station option before, but I do think it's got some potential in certain situations. Rather than seeing them spread across the nation's highways en masse, I think these systems come into their own with fleet users, such as metro taxi and bus services. A typical fleet operator is probably using multiple copies of the same vehicle, so there isn't the problem of having to keep 57 varieties of batteries in the inventory charged up and ready to go. And, when that one bad battery out of 1000 shows up, the vehicle it gets installed in is probably within 10 miles of home base . . . not 3000 miles from home. Speaking from experience (I was a cab driver many years ago,) I can see battery swapping really working well - more effectively than Level 3 charging - in such fleet situations.

"It its beginning to sound like the only near-term solution for those for whom the range limitation of EVs is a show-stopper is a range-extending towable trailer."

Well, like I've said, the Volt makes perfect sense here. There was a lot of discussion regarding range generator trailers on this blog within the last year and a half. The consensus drawn by most back then was that it's a bit of a wash. The weight load on smaller EVs would be too much for their drive trains and there were other issues such as wind drag negating any possible advantages for more optimally sized vehicles. Intelligently integrating the smooth transition between gas and electric (factors such as mileage and pollution) while traveling on the highway is certainly going to be more difficult with an ICE in a trailer.

Better battery technology, in the end, is what we are really going to need. We don't have a Moore's Law in the lithium battery world, such as the 18 month predictable and incremental advance we currently witness with computer chip technology . . . yet. But there is progress being made. When cars like the Leaf start appearing with 150 mile range batteries, another larger group of potential buyers will give it a serious look. Likewise, when the 200 mile range mark becomes commonplace and relatively affordable for newer EVs, another large group may give them serious consideration. And so on . . .

· bryan38401 (not verified) · 2 years ago

ok real life answers to level 3 charging first we will talk kws not%. the areovirment L3 will add appox 4kw per 10 min and I like this piece of eq. they have worked each time I have used them and are consitant, and so far have been free and have been told they will stay that way for awile.The blinks are a (POS) they will add 2.5kws per 10 min and work only appox 30% of the time,for now they are free but was told by ecotality rep in nashville meeting that it will go away very soon and they will be charging $1.00 per min.I think this will solve the problem with them as they wont be around(have had people ask me if I could disable the blink connection and make it useable) YES would be happy to and would do it for free. Dont have any coulumb so cant say but they are using same biz model as blink.ok the next 2 ARE NOT UL LISTED but one some how is useable and I have used it twice it is made by eaton a well trusted name in the industry it will add appox 4kw in 10 min and is free for now but was told when ul listing is obtained and more are installed they are looking at 8-10 dollars per half hour.The last one was tested at the manufactures facility and is also from a well known trusted name in the industry,it also adds about 4kw per 10 min and sould hve ul listing shortly.The appox charge for using will be 7-10 dollars per half hour and we are thinking of setting them up for 10 min increments.so that will be 2-3 dollars per 10 min. ok these test were all done at 10 min ONLY!!! all of these charges act different with 30 min sessions.the 10 min were done at different soc with consitent results.30 min sessions vary with soc. hope this is helpful.

· · 2 years ago

Thanks for those hands-on Level 3 field reports, bryan38401. I just came back from a local alternative energy expo and had interesting conversations regarding Level 3 with some of the electric car people there. There is GREAT frustration regarding Ecotality's slow rollout and, from what you are saying about their Level 3 Blink units (ie: just a little more than half the charge rate over a 10 minute period when compared to the competition and they work only approx 30% of the time,) its clear they don't have what it takes to get the job done. Ecotality, unfortunately, got the lion's share of the federal money for public charger deployment. Hopefully, the DOE can step in and redistribute some of that money to other contractors.

· · 2 years ago

I don't know why anybody is comparing the Leaf to the Versa. Who cares that it is the same size and costs a bunch less? I wanted an electric car, not a gas car. The Leaf is damn near silent in most situations which compares to a luxury car like the big Lexus. I think the noise factor alone and the perfectly smooth power delivery makes the Leaf (and Volt, Focus and Mitsubishi i) a ton nicer than any gas car. You have to drive one to know what I mean. There's no comparison.

· · 2 years ago

@Jiminy, "I don't know why anybody is comparing the Leaf to the Versa. Who cares that it is the same size and costs a bunch less?"

They're not even the same size. The Versa is a compact while the LEAF is a midsize. The Versa is an economy car, the LEAF is loaded with content. Oh, and by the way, the LEAF is an electric car and the Versa isn't. Looking forward to their next article "Hyundai Accent versus the Bentley Continental GT".

· · 2 years ago

You're right, Indyflick. There's no comparison. I forgot that the Versa was a little smaller.

· Marius (not verified) · 2 years ago

Just a quick comment on the European sales numbers. In Norway we have heavy incentives for electric vehicles. There are only about 5 million people living in this country but due to these incentives there has been sold 600 Nissan LEAFS in the first three months of 2012. This equals 200 pr month which is around 10% of the predicted world-wide sale of the Leaf.

(Norwegian link, but the table should be readable for all: http://www.elbil.no/elbiler/640-supersalg-av-elbiler-i-2012)

The article also states that EV sales in Norway is 2.5% of TOTAL SALES of cars in the first quarter of 2012.

This shows that given incentives and reasonably prices, many people will buy electric vehicles.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. What Is An Electric Car?
    Before we get going, let's establish basic definitions.
  2. A Quick Guide to Plug-in Hybrids
    Some plug-in cars have back-up engines to extend driving range.
  3. Electric Cars Pros and Cons
    EVs are a great solution for most people. But not everybody.
  4. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  5. Federal and Local Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  6. Eight Factors Determining Total Cost of Ownership of an Electric Car
    EVs get bad rap as expensive. Until you look at TCO.
  7. Quick Guide to Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.
  8. Electric Car Utility Rate Plans: Top Five Rules
    With the right utility plan, electric fuel can be dirt cheap.
  9. 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).
  10. Eight Rules of Electric Vehicle Charging Etiquette
    Thou shalt charge only when necessary. And other rules to live by.