No one buys a new car without a fuel tank, but Nissan North America is considering an odd new possibility along similar lines: Selling, in separate transactions, the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle and the lithium ion battery pack that makes it go.
The Nissan Leaf will go on sale in several U.S. markets late next year, relying initially on imports from Japan. Nissan executives say the automaker may lease the Leaf's rechargeable battery pack separately from the sale or lease of the vehicle.
Nissan offers these reasons for separating the two:
-- Avoiding obsolescence.
"Our thinking is that it might give customers some protection from technological advances," explains Mark Perry, Nissan North America's director of product planning.
"Battery technology could advance rapidly over the next three or four years. This way, they wouldn't be stuck owning an out-of-date battery."
-- Providing financial benefits for the buyer.
There could be a financial advantage to separating the vehicle and battery transactions, Perry says. Purchasing an electric vehicle such as the Leaf will earn a consumer a $7,500 federal tax credit. But he or she will have wait until income-tax filing time to claim the credit.
"We could arrange it so that they apply the tax credit to the cost of the lease, which would bring down the total ownership cost," Perry says. "Our goal is to make sure that owning an electric vehicle doesn't cost any more than owning a gasoline vehicle."
-- Avoiding problems in setting residual values.
The Leaf's battery pack could have a useful life in other applications after it is no longer suitable for vehicle use. But used-car guides and used-car buyers are unlikely to include that second career when placing a value on the Leaf.
Larry Dominique, Nissan North America's vice president for product planning, says the battery issue magnifies a common problem: The used-car market often discounts the value of new technology.
He cites the case of early navigation systems. New-car buyers were willing to pay a premium for the systems, but used-car buyers rarely put as high a value on them. So used-car guides more or less ignored the technology when predicting residual values, Dominique says.
Setting the residual value of the Leaf, therefore, will be easier if the battery pack's residual value is counted separately.
There are also marketing benefits for Nissan.
Although Nissan executives don't say so outright, the Leaf's price will be more competitive with similar-sized cars if the pricey battery pack is tallied separately.
That said, Nissan also doesn't want Leaf buyers to face a stack of confusing paperwork. Even if Nissan splits the price tag for the batteries apart from that for the car, Dominique says, "the customer should see only one contract."