Nashville Public Radio reported  today that Nissan has canceled its plans for a grand opening ceremony for its Tennessee plant that will produce batteries for electric cars. The cancellation reflects a more subdued and cautious corporate approach to publicity for Nissan EVs.
There was a time when Nissan celebrated every milestone of its electric car efforts—no matter how small—with great fanfare. Photo opportunities were created each time the first customer took possession of the first Nissan LEAF in its rollout markets. Top executives smiled as they handed over keys. Governor Phil Bredesen attended the May 2010 groundbreaking ceremony for Nissan’s EV battery plant. Last year, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood toured the battery plant as it was under construction. But now the company is foregoing a grand ceremony altogether. A Nissan spokesman said there are no plans to reschedule.
At that time of the groundbreaking—and subsequently—Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn made optimistic projections about EV sales. He continues to assert that by 2020, electric cars will command about 10 percent of total auto sales in major mature global markets, like US, Europe, and Japan.
The Tennessee battery plant will have the capacity to produce 200,000 lithium-ion batteries a year. The vehicle assembly plant, adjacent to the battery facility, will be able to produce up to 150,000 LEAFs a year. That’s well beyond the realistic expectations about LEAF sales for the coming years. So far, Nissan has sold fewer than 7,000 LEAFs this year—15 percent below last year’s sales.
The cancelation of the grand ceremony allows Nissan to avoid media scrutiny about low sales, or the need to answer questions about how the company will reverse the trend. According to Nashville Public Radio, a Nissan spokesperson said scheduling conflicts have been encountered “among key stakeholders.”
The stakes are relatively high because Nissan received a $1.4 billion loan from the federal government to build the battery plant and retool its production line to produce electric cars.
The plant quietly started producing of lithium-ion batteries last month. The first Nissan LEAF made in the U.S. is still supposed to roll off the nearby assembly line around the first of the year.