DETROIT -- Japan's earthquake and tsunami may force Nissan to delay the start of U.S. production of its Leaf electric vehicle, now scheduled for late 2012.
"The earthquake is putting us in a very difficult situation," said Hideaki Watanabe, head of Nissan's Global Zero Emission Vehicle Business Unit. "But we are not giving up yet. Is there a potential for delay? There may be. We are assessing right now."
Watanabe, speaking here last week at a Nissan event, said the disaster in Japan shook up Nissan's internal timetables.
"On March 11 every operation stopped, so all the resources that were in place were used to restore Japan," he said. "All the milestones and studies to localize production in the United States were stopped."
The Leaf is planned for production in Smyrna, Tenn., starting in December 2012. Production of lithium ion batteries for the Leaf is scheduled to begin in Smyrna in September 2012. Watanabe declined to speculate on how long the start of production could be delayed.
Nissan plans to install capacity to build 150,000 Leafs annually in Tennessee.
The company has come under criticism in the United States for slow deliveries of the Japan-produced Leaf. Nissan said the delays occurred because of technical problems and communications issues, which were made worse by the earthquake and tsunami.
Company officials have said they expect to deliver 10,000 to 12,000 Leafs in the United States in 2011. Nissan has so far taken about 7,000 orders for the vehicle and expects to have those orders filled by the end of summer. It is taking orders in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Tennessee, Hawaii and Texas.
This summer Nissan will begin accepting orders in Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Nissan's goal is to be selling in all 50 states by the time production begins in Smyrna.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn last week said about 1,500 Leaf units will be delivered in June, Bloomberg reported.
He said: "This should help, a little bit, restart the enthusiasm."