NASHVILLE -- Nissan North America Inc. will sell just half or more of the 20,000 electric Leaf sedans allocated to the United States this year, the company estimates.
The first model year likely will see sales of 10,000 to 12,000 Leafs, according to Al Castignetti, Nissan Division vice president of sales.
The company has been vague about its startup sales target for the Leaf. But for the past year it has said that its U.S. retailers could receive up to 20,000 units in 2011 and 20,000 in 2012.
Only 50,000 Leafs a year are available globally from Japan.
Nissan has been marketing the battery-powered family sedan through uncharted waters for the past six months in the United States.
The car must be obtained through an online reservation system, and is available in only seven states. The company intends to open other U.S. markets over the coming year.
But retail sales are complicated by a requirement that buyers install a home charging system before taking delivery. The rollout also was complicated by a cautious startup of the Leaf's lithium ion battery plant in Japan, then by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which interfered with vehicle production and shipping across that country.
"It's different than anything we've ever done, launching the car in three global markets at the same time," Castignetti told Bloomberg on Wednesday. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy."
Another complication in the rollout is that less than half of the customers who are reserving the Leaf through Nissan's online system are taking retail delivery. The company halted the reservation process last September -- three months before the car went on sale -- when all of its allocation was promised.
Company spokeswoman Katherine Zachary said today that only 46 percent of reservations are converting into deliveries "for many different reasons." Some reservations, which require a $99 deposit, were made by consumers in cities where the Leaf is not yet available, she said.
Nissan has resumed taking reservations for 2011 models. Zachary said the company had no guidance on how many reservations would turn into sales.
Nissan sold 1,142 Leafs in May, up from 573 in April and 298 in March.
In 2013, Nissan expects to begin mass producing the vehicle, with output for the United States shifted to its factory in Smyrna, Tenn.
Nissan is spending $1.6 billion to create a lithium ion battery pack plant in Smyrna, and to install production capacity there for as many as 150,000 Leafs a year.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.