LOS ANGELES -- Claiming that Nissan will be rewarded for blazing a trail into mass production of electric vehicles, CEO Carlos Ghosn kicked off a year-long marketing blitz for his five-passenger Leaf here today to an audience of environmentalists, government regulators and media.
Sitting in the hot California sun in a dark suit and no necktie, Ghosn assured an audience in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium that electric-vehicle sales will quickly catch on with consumers. He referred to a goal set this year by President Barack Obama to see 1 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015.
“You'll have much more than 1 million cars by 2015,” Ghosn said. “The response will be bigger than we think.”
Ghosn predicted that mass-market sales will spur advances in battery technology, which will in turn stimulate more sales and bring down vehicle costs.
He said the purchase cost of the hatchback Leaf, designed to have an all-electric range of 100 miles, will be within “1 or 2 percent” of the cost of competing non-electric cars. But company officials are still working out details about how the Leaf will be transacted at Nissan dealerships -- including whether customers will purchase its battery as part of the sticker price or whether they will lease it separately for a monthly fee.
Leasing it would allow customers to upgrade their batteries during the life of the car. “We want to lease the battery. We don't want to sell the battery,” Ghosn said.
Nissan Motor Co. is preparing to launch a $2 billion construction project in Smyrna, Tenn., that will produce 150,000 Leafs a year, along with a new lithium-ion battery plant to manufacture 200,000 electric-vehicle batteries a year.
To build up awareness for the car, which reaches retail stores in one year, Nissan officials are mounting a 21-city U.S. tour, using the solitary light-blue Leaf prototype that Japanese engineers have permitted to come across the Pacific Ocean. Because the interior is white, program managers will not be allowing crowds to climb into the car at events.
Nissan plans to ship the Leaf prototype around the country on an almost daily basis to display it to college campuses, shopping malls, government offices and other venues.
Ghosn said the tour “is important for us to change people's perspective.”
“This car should sell without advertising,” Ghosn said, adding that the company expects to make a profit off the vehicle.
In recent weeks, Nissan's electric-vehicle plan has expanded. Ghosn revealed in Tokyo last month that Nissan plans to produce three electric models, including a small commercial van and a compact Infiniti model.
French automaker Renault SA, of which Ghosn is also CEO, will simultaneously develop electric vehicles.
But speaking in Los Angeles today, Ghosn said that Nissan plans four electric vehicles and Renault also plans four models.
He said the two automakers are working toward together having overall production capacity of 500,000 cars and batteries a year among the United States, Europe and Japan.
Reuters contributed to this report