If you have not put your name on the waiting list for a Nissan Leaf, you had better hurry fast. Not that scrambling to put your name on the list makes much of a difference: dealers who are part of a pilot project to showcase the Leaf are already sold out of the plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) vehicles. The sellout occurred before the sedans could even arrive at the showrooms in a handful of US states
Pilot program or not, the quick sellout is impressive—even if the buyers were wealthier “early adopters” who have the discretionary income for the Leaf, the sticker price of which is about $32K. Some bemoan the sluggish growth of this nascent niche industry, but on the other hand, it is impressive the growth of the electric car industry over the past couple years. The growth should continue over this decade: Bloomberg believes electric vehicles will comprise 9% of automobile sales by 2020, and that percentage will more than double another 10 years by 2030.
For now most Leaf buyers are those in the higher income brackets who can afford to tinker with an electric vehicle as a second car. The next challenge for Nissan is to convince those more pragmatic consumers who many not yet be convinced that an electric vehicle is practical and can save them money. Recharging, of course, is a huge issue: and Nissan has reported that 90% of the customers who reserved a Leaf live within 10 miles of a dealer that has installed charging stations.
Despite the challenges of a new automobile technology, Nissan is still bullish on the Leaf. For now production is limited to a plant in Japan, but by 2012, 125,000 cars will roll off the assembly line at a new Tennessee plant. The company will also introduce an all-electric commercial van in 2014.
For Nissan, the Leaf is an opportunity for Nissan to boost its brand awareness in the United States, which has lagged behind Honda, and yes, Toyota, despite their problems the past couple years. Innovation, led by the Leaf, could be Nissan’s key to increasing its market share in the US. If the Leaf receives great reviews once they hit the roads en masse, an infrastructure develops that makes PHEV cars easier to own, and battery costs come down—a wish complicated by China’s on-again, off-again shut off of rare metals crucial for their manufacture—Nissan could benefit from their first-mover advantage in the electric car market.