TOKYO -- Nissan Motor Co., looking to bolster lackluster sales of its Leaf electric vehicle, will roll out a lower-priced variant for 2013.
The entry trim level will be positioned below the two variants already offered, people familiar with the plan say.
The lower-cost version will be added as part of a 2013 model makeover. The face-lifted 2013 Leaf will enter production in December in Smyrna, Tenn. It is expected to hit U.S. showrooms by the end of February.
Nissan is redoubling its focus on cost reduction and affordability as it struggles to fan flagging sales. Nissan sold 5,212 Leafs through September, down from 7,199 in the year-earlier period. That is far off the annual pace of 20,000 units that Nissan has targeted per fiscal year.
The Leaf also is being outsold by its main rivals: the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in.
Pricing is one hurdle. The Leaf, which went on sale in December 2010 as a low-volume import from Japan, retails for $36,050, including shipping. It is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit. Its base price is between the Volt's $39,995 and the Prius Plug-in's $32,795. Prices include shipping.
It is unclear what the new variant's price will be.
Nissan is overhauling parts of the car to cut cost before it adds the entry-level model to assembly plants in Smyrna and Britain. In some cases, Nissan is asking suppliers to target cost cuts as high as 50 percent, one person said.
"There is an enormous amount of pressure on cost," said another person familiar with the plan. "This car, throughout its life, needs to wash its face financially."
Some streamlining will involve decontenting for the entry-level model. Other strategies will include re-engineering parts of the car to cut costs by combining components.
For instance, some electric drivetrain components now in the back of the car will be integrated with powertrain systems in the forward engine bay, one person said.
Decontenting will have the entry level likely skimp on the more advanced features offered in the Leaf's current navigation system. And the entry Leaf will get traditional -- and lower-cost -- high-intensity headlamps, not the high-tech, high-cost light-emitting diode lamps that now come standard.
The LED lights, with their aerodynamic design, were introduced with much fanfare for their low-energy consumption, a feature deemed vital to conserving the Leaf's battery charge.
So far, insiders say, most of the Leafs sold have been high-trim models, snapped up by early adopters eager for bells and whistles and with the disposable income to pay for them.
As the Leaf rollout continues and electric cars lose their nichelike novelty, Nissan expects sales of cheaper models will rise.