SMYRNA, Tenn. -- With U.S. mass production building for its Leaf electric vehicle, Nissan hopes to expand sales by getting more battery chargers in place across the nation.
After two years of meager startup sales, March 2013 sales topped 2,200 units as dealers began receiving Leafs out of a U.S. factory. Nissan believes the number will now begin climbing.
But to attract a bigger audience to electric cars, company officials say they must get more public EV chargers in place -- particularly the more powerful and expensive fast-charging stations.
Nissan has assigned a five-person "infrastructure" team to spur charger-station installations. It is focusing on several markets in which the Leaf is gaining momentum: in California; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Atlanta; and Washington, D.C. It has quietly launched a pilot program with 27 California dealers to install quick chargers, with Nissan providing funding.
Nissan reports that some dealers in those markets have begun selling as many as 100 Leafs a month. In San Francisco, the Leaf has become Nissan's second-biggest volume product after the Altima. In Seattle, Nissan dealers have been selling the U.S. model at a promising enough clip that they have requested a Leaf-led sales event to fan the flames.
Fearful that the Smyrna factory line is not yet running at a fast enough pace to support them, Nissan has turned down the Seattle dealers for now, according to Erik Gottfried, the newly appointed sales and marketing director for the Leaf.
Brendan Jones, who until last month was head of electric vehicle marketing, is leading the mission to open more charging stations.
Jones' team wants to have 600 fast chargers -- Level 3 chargers putting out 400 to 600 volts -- in place by the end of March 2014, up from about 200 today. Nissan wants to have 22,000 Level 2, 220-volt chargers at businesses and in public places, compared with fewer than 11,000 now. Jones plans to ask some Nissan dealers, as well as large employers in a few cities, to install the rapid chargers.
A quick charger can cost $18,000 and can recharge an EV in less than 30 minutes. A 220-volt charger that Leaf owners would install at home, which takes several hours to recharge a battery, costs about $2,500.
According to Jones, Nissan hopes to learn from the California dealer program what electrical wiring issues, local permitting requirements and contractor costs are involved with the installations.