NEW YORK -- Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said his U.S. team should be able to raise sales of the electric Leaf to 50,000 a year, up from a little more than 30,000 last year.
But Ghosn also believes that it is not current EV technology or a lack of appeal that is holding sales back -- only the need for a bigger U.S. public battery-charging network.
Ghosn said Nissan is still working toward the first phase of factory capacity for battery modules, produced at its Smyrna, Tenn., assembly plant.
"The basic plan is based on 50,000 cars a year," he said this month at the New York auto show, when asked whether Leaf sales would support Nissan's U.S. investment in EV battery manufacturing.
"Selling 50,000 EVs in North America should not be, in my opinion, a task which is beyond our capacity," Ghosn said. "I feel very good about the capacity we have today."
But he said that more investment in EV-charging facilities is necessary by governments and public-private initiatives.
"As long as you don't have charging infrastructure, you know, we're not going to see a very strong development of the electric car," Ghosn said. "And the countries which are going to have this charging infrastructure are going to see a very big burst of zero-emission" vehicles.
He said the sales outlook is bogged down by two time-consuming obstacles:
1. Governments first must reach the decision to invest in infrastructure, then
2. The infrastructure must be constructed.
"Unfortunately, it's decisions made by government, and execution made by the states, the cities and the communities, which means that we're going to have to be patient," Ghosn said.
In the first quarter, Nissan sold 4,085 Leafs, down 21 percent from the year-earlier quarter. Selling 50,000 units a year would require a tripling of current sales levels.
Ghosn discounted the notion that EVs must have a vastly improved range before they catch on with the buying public. The 2015 Leaf has an EPA-rated battery range of 84 miles. Nissan has hinted that the next-generation Leaf will deliver a significantly improved battery range. But range is not what is holding consumers back, Ghosn insisted.
"First car I bought -- did I care about the range of the car?" he asked reporters. "No, I didn't care about the range. And you know why? Because we have a gasoline station every three, four miles, wherever I am.
"So I don't care about the car driving 300 miles," he reasoned. "The main problem is the charging infrastructure, OK? The range is going to help, but it's not going to solve."