Nissan: “We Were Arrogant” about Electric Car Market

By · December 17, 2012

Nissan LEAF

Nissan LEAF battery production.

Nissan is reassessing its electric car program after failing to achieve its sales targets for 2012. For most of this year, Nissan executives refused to admit that it would not double last year’s sales—even when the sales pace indicated fewer (rather than more) sales than in 2011. Automotive News today is quoting Al Castignetti, Nissan vice president for sales: "We were a little bit arrogant as a manufacturer when we went to the 50-state rollout." Castignetti spoke with Automotive News in late November. "We had assumed that there were people just waiting for the vehicle who would raise their hand and say, 'Give me a LEAF, give me a LEAF, give me a LEAF.'"

In November, Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s chief executive, also admitted for the first time that sales were falling short of expectations. In an abrupt shift, instead of exhibiting his usual exuberance for electric cars, Ghosn said, “We're becoming more competitive with the LEAF and putting our act together.”

In another telling although tacit indication of the company’s need to shift strategy, Nissan executives last week in Japan said the company would introduce 15 new hybrid models by 2017. For the most part, until now, the “H” word (or anything related to gas-electric hybrids) has only been a footnote in Nissan’s green car strategy.

At a May 2010 press conference that took place at the groundbreaking ceremony for Nissan’s EV battery plant, Ghosn ceded hybrid leadership to Toyota, and said Nissan-Renault would stake its reputation on pure battery electric vehicles.

Still Aiming High for EVs

Toshiyuki Shiga, the company's chief operating officer, spoke about Nissan’s hybrid goals at a briefing at the company's Yokohama headquarters. He also said Nissan wants to sell as many as 1.5 million electric vehicles worldwide with its partner Renault by the end of 2016. Nissan has sold nearly 50,000 LEAFs worldwide since its introduction two years ago.

LEAF ticker

The running ticker on Nissan's site shows that LEAF drivers have now covered in excess of 113 million miles.

The company's job now is to assess its missteps, and evaluate how to regain momentum with electric cars. "We didn't prepare our dealers properly,” said Castignetti. "We've pulled back a little bit and are telling our dealers, 'You don't market this car traditionally. You don't put it in the newspaper. You need to go and find the electric car buyer in your market.'"

Nissan is also expected to enhance the features of the 2013 LEAF, while lowering its price. Regular production of the 2013 is expected to begin in Smyrna, Tenn. in January. The plant is capable of producing 150,000 LEAFs annually, about 15 times the volume of its current EV sales in the United States.

New to EVs? Start here

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