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Nissan LEAF: Beyond the Numbers

Feb. 28 – Yokohama – Sales of the Nissan LEAF have recently passed the 50,000 mark. That’s not bad, say some, for a new technology and the first mass-market all electric vehicle, but what numbers will be next in sight?

Billy Hayes, Nissan vice president in charge of global sales of the Nissan Leaf, stopped by the Global Media Center to discuss the outlook for the EV.

Global Media Center:

How do LEAF sales compare with expectations?

Nissan VP, Billy Hayes:

Nissan's Billy Hayes (left) discusses the LEAF

Over 50,000 sales is certainly a fantastic accomplishment. It is something no other manufacturer has ever done, so I think we need to celebrate that accomplishment.

In terms of meeting expectations, I think you’ll see over the course of the last few months and going forward that we’re really eliminating the barriers to sales of the Nissan LEAF, to see what the car can actually do in the marketplace, to get the mass acceptance out there that the car really deserves.

Global Media Center:

Reuters and some other media outlets have written what amount to obituaries for electric cars, saying this technology isn’t going to catch on. Presumably you don’t agree. What’s your answer?

Billy Hayes:

It’s really unfortunate how much scrutiny the electric car gets, and how much scrutiny the exact sales numbers get. The reality is we are fully, fully committed to electric vehicles, so it is not the death of the electric car. What you’ve just said is we’ve sold 50,000 of them. We’re making investments in infrastructure. We’re making key changes to the vehicle to make it more viable for the mass market and the pragmatic majority.

So, it is certainly not the death of the electric car. For instance, in the U.S. we cannot produce enough LEAF today. We have built demand to the point where we cannot build enough.

 Global Media Center:

A recent change making the LEAF more desirable is price, which is lower. What does that say to consumers?

Billy Hayes:

The 2013 Nissan LEAF

What we found, after we’ve gone through the early adopters, who probably would have paid any price for the vehicle, is that customers are unwilling to pay for green. They’re much more pragmatic. It makes them feel nice to drive something green, but they’re not willing to pay for it.

So some of the countermeasures that we’ve made are finance offers in the ballpark of a typical ICE  (internal combustion engine) vehicle. Even given the compromises of an EV, customers are willing to pay somewhere close to what an ICE vehicle would cost of comparable size.

Once we started doing that we saw sales going up. We also started putting vehicles in places where they would sell. You know there are certain states that actually offer more incentives, and there are also places in the United States and abroad, like Norway, where customers are more open to EV. So, we’ve strategically focused on some of those areas as well.

 Global Media Center:

It seems to be a chicken-and-egg problem with EVs. You need enough of the cars on the road for people to invest in infrastructure and building the charging stations. How do you make that process actually happen?

Billy Hayes:

We just need to continue to tell positive stories. Fifty thousand is a huge number. I had a dealer in San Francisco make me stand with him on the side of the highway to watch at rush-hour how many LEAFs went by – 62 in an hour. That’s big. That’s a really big number. So as people increasingly see vehicles on the road it makes it okay for them to drive the EV. But you’re right, it is pretty much a chicken-and-egg type situation.

People need to know how many cars are on the road, that normal people like you and I can drive the car, that it fits into our lifestyle. People need to know that. We need to continue to tell these positive stories.

 Global Media Center:

What about hydrogen fuel-cell cars. Is that technology actually going to work?

Billy Hayes:

That’s more of a future technology. For the time being, we’re 100% committed to EV. There was some trepidation when we made the announcement a few weeks ago on fuel cell that we were abandoning EV. That is not the case. We are still 100% committed to EV. I can’t say that enough.

 Global Media Center:

Other companies are entering the EV space – Tesla, for example, with the Model S. Does more companies getting involved potentially help Nissan’s sale of the LEAF in future.

Billy Hayes:

The Nissan LEAF has passed 50,000 sales

I think it really does. As long as we continue to stay competitive and offer what the customers are asking. This year we are expanding the trim packages. We’ve got a lower-end trim that’s got less features, but it is more value. Then we’ve got a higher-end trim with leather and nice 17-inch wheels that kind of appeals to those customers who don’t want to make a compromise, and want to have leather and some of the niceties that exist in other cars that they could be choosing today.

But in terms of competition, certainly there’s nobody really in the game the way we are. Now Ford has just announced they are going from 200 dealers in the US to 900 dealers in the U.S. and they’ve brought their pricing, especially their finance offers, to around our level.

So, I see them as a real threat. But again, the more EVs that get out there, the more infrastructure that will get built and the more acceptance there will be in general. We just need to stay relevant and current, compared to the competition.

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