NASHVILLE -- Nissan admits its launch strategy on the Leaf miscalculated the short-term market potential for the electric vehicle and says it will do a better job of targeting potential buyers.
Al Castignetti, Nissan vice president for sales, said sales momentum began slowing in February when Nissan started supplying Leafs to dealers in all 50 states, regardless of whether their local markets had adequate EV charging infrastructure.
"We were a little bit arrogant as a manufacturer when we went to the 50-state rollout," Castignetti told Automotive News in late November. "We had assumed that there were people just waiting for the vehicle who would raise their hand and say, 'Give me a Leaf, give me a Leaf, give me a Leaf.'
"We didn't prepare our dealers properly. "We've pulled back a little bit and are telling our dealers, 'You don't market this car traditionally. You don't put it in the newspaper. You need to go and find the electric car buyer in your market.'"
Limited production of the Leaf began this month in Smyrna, Tenn. The plant will begin regular production of the 2013 Leaf next month.
The assembly line was built with the capacity to produce 150,000 Leafs annually -- more than 10 times its current sales volume.
To kick-start sales, Nissan plans to offer a lower-priced U.S.-built Leaf, reducing content slightly to cut the base model sticker price of $36,050, including shipping. Nissan did not disclose the lower base price. The Leaf is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.
In the past month or so, as Nissan prepared to launch U.S. production, the company pulled the project back from the limelight. In November, it canceled a public ribbon-cutting for the lithium ion battery module plant adjacent to the Smyrna car factory. The event was being planned during the U.S. election campaign, during which the Obama administration's federal loans to automakers had become a political issue.
The $1.6 billion Smyrna Leaf project was made possible by a $1.4 billion low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Selling the Leaf has been a challenge. Until recently, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was forecasting U.S. sales of 20,000 this year. Through November, U.S. sales were 8,330.