To get the mainstream consumer to buy an all-electric vehicle, Nissan knew it would have to make its 2013 LEAF more affordable and give it a longer range.
The automaker's research department was right on the money as the LEAF became the best-selling "green car" in March, surpassing sales of the Chevy Volt by selling 2,236 units. Nissan officials say that April sales appear to be just as strong.
A major factor in the LEAF sales boom is that Nissan has cut the price by $6,400 on the entry-level model, which retails for $28,800. The company also reduced the cost on upgraded models from $2,500 to $3,400. With state and federal tax credits, the LEAF will make buyers of traditional car take a second look.
Erik Gottfried, director of electric vehicle marketing for Nissan, believes part of the success for the four-door vehicle is that it doesn't look like an electric car.
"It's a regular size car that can carry normal size adults and fit regular size suitcases," Gottfried said during an interview with HispanicBusiness.com on Earth Day. "We've moved out of the science experiment that was five to 10 years ago. We now have a product that is acceptable to the mass market."
Nissan shifted production of the LEAF from Japan to Smyrna, Tenn., this year to be manufactured alongside gasoline-powered siblings the Altima and Maxima. Moving assembly to the U.S. reduced shipping costs and exposure to fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates. Nissan is passing the savings along to consumers.
The automaker set a goal of manufacturing 85 percent of its U.S. sales volume in North America by 2015, and the LEAF's 48-module lithium-ion batteries being built in an adjacent facility in Tennessee goes a long way toward meeting that goal.
Nissan says it's the only automaker that manufactures its own electric vehicle batteries and that the plant is the largest in the U.S. The company feels so strongly about its battery technology, it's offering a five-year or 60,000-mile warranty that the batteries won't fall below 70 percent capacity during that period.
On the new model, the company offers the 240V charging (a $1,630 upcharge) that is nearly twice as fast as the previous model. A three-hour charge will give the LEAF a 75-mile-plus driving range, Nissan said. With a 120V connection, the charging time is 16 hours for a 65-mile range, according to the automaker.
"The average person could go about their regular routine and not have to charge the car during the day," Gottfried said. "As you get to know the car and how to drive it, you'll know the kind of range it's capable of."
To prove its point that the LEAF is a viable city vehicle, Nissan and New York City announced this week an electric vehicle taxi program. Beginning later this year, six LEAF taxis will be put into service with an eye toward integrating zero-emission vehicles into future taxi fleets.
"Even though the Taxi of Tomorrow won't be on the road for another six months, we're already looking ahead to the taxi of the day after tomorrow," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in making the announcement on Earth Day.
As part of the program, several DC quick chargers will be installed to allow drivers to recharge their electric taxis during the shift. Nissan says the car can be recharged to about 80 percent in less than 30 minutes. There are approximately 10,800 public/private charging stations in the U.S., about 200 of which are DC fast chargers.
The LEAF looks like a sporty four-door hatchback car with the traditional amenities found in gasoline-powered vehicles, such as leather seats, heated steering wheel and custom 17-inch alloy wheels. Noticeably absent is the tailpipe and traditional gas engine that is replaced with an electric motor.
With gas prices hovering above $3 a gallon in most of the country for the past couple of years, Nissan believes that even more consumers will be looking at electric vehicles and alternative fuel cars. Already 23,000 LEAF vehicles are on the road since the car was introduced in December 2010. And Nissan says it's seeing a large increase in younger buyers as well as families.
"Our philosophy is to create a car that beats consumer's expectations," Gottfried said, adding, "We think we've done that."
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