Nissan Still Betting Big on EVs as Smyrna Plant About to Open

5 years ago by Lyle Dennis 11

There is no doubt Nissan has made a big bet on electric vehicles.  The company has come out strong and hard launching the mainstream Leaf EV in 2011, with ambitious plans to sell tens of thousands of units now with a goal of millions in the future.

To support this plan Nissan had to prepare both a battery and EV production plant in the US, in Smyrna Tennessee.  We are now only days away from the opening of the Smyrna plant.  Nissan is making final preparations on the $1.6 billion dollar plant that has been three years in the making.

With all this vim and vigor however hangs a cloud of doubt.  Nissan, and nearly every other automaker’s plans for EV sales have been falling considerably short of goals.

Thus far this year Nissan has through September only sold 5212 Leafs, short of its US goal of 20,000.  There were 16,348 Volts sold out of a goal of 45,000 (down from 60,000).  Toyota announced it would only sell a handful of eQ pure EVs.

Pike research predicts the US government will not achieve its ambitious goal of 1,000,000 EVs on the roads by 2015, pegging instead 2018 for that milestone.

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who will soon retire, blames poor sales on the lack of fast-charging  infrastructure.

“If the level of sales is not at the level we expected, why?” he told reporters. “Is it related to the product, to the batteries, to attractiveness, or to the infrastructure? The slow level of sales is mainly due to the fact that people are worried about the absence of infrastructure. And we are mainly lobbying in order to make sure that in some cities and in some states a better job is done, a quicker job is done in terms of infrastructure.

“We are going to have to be resilient,” he said counseling patinece, “we are going to have to do our job, we are going to have to make sure that we are systematically not only innovating in terms of marketing and selling the car, but also doing our job with local government, states, cities, municipalities in order to push forward what is the main concern of the consumer — which is, ‘I buy the electric car, where am I going to charge it?’ I’m talking about quick charge.”

“This is not a normal car,” he added. “This is something which is going to require a profound change in the attitude of the consumer.”

To help spur sales, Nissan will be offering a stripped down lower price Leaf for 2013.  There will also be improvements in battery conditioning, range, and the accuracy of gauges.

“You’ll see small improvements, both in the area of the battery and in the level of the vehicle,” Nissan exec Andy Palmer told reporters. “It’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution.”

Will that be enough to move the needle?  Only time will tell.

Automotive News

 

11 responses to "Nissan Still Betting Big on EVs as Smyrna Plant About to Open"

  1. ClarksonCote says:

    I know Ghosn won’t listen, but I still wish he would change all the Leafs to have the new SAE3 standard plug. Chademo charging stations can be adapted to this standard easily, and it would help all EV adoption.

    I know there are some that disagree, but right now there are only several thousand Leaf EV’s out there, and much less with the Chademo option.

    I think this would go a long way to ensuring more fast charging infrastructure, as well as the ability for Leafs to use any that are out there in the long term.

    1. backstroke says:

      With local manufacturing coming online a switch over for the NA market seems more probable.

  2. scottf200 says:

    If it was sold/pushed as a commuter/errand/city car I think it would sell better. The avg buyer probably is thinking in terms of a normal replacement of their gas based car that has “unlimited” range.

    Infrastructure: People can easily charge at home. For many that drive < 40 miles per day they could probably even just charge on 120v/L1 overnight. Personally I don't think it is an infrastructure issue. It is a range issues. Anything less than a real world 100 miles accounting for winters, liberal climate control usage, and battery degradation within 5 years will probably make the avg buyer turn away.

    In the quantities they want to build and sell, they can't think of making the car usable/understandable for the technical or early adopters. They need to think about the avg buyer and their concerns (such as unexpected errands or emergencies eg a realworld 100+ miles).

    1. vdiv says:

      Hear, hear. The two however do go together. The current practical limitations on the electric range are reduced by a multiple if EV drivers can charge everywhere they park their car. Infrastructure is needed in the denser living communities (condos, apartments, high-rise, etc) and at the office for wider EV adoption.

  3. Herm says:

    “Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who will soon retire”

    What?.. did I miss an article?.. I thought that was just a rumor but if Lyle is saying it then….

    Infrastructure bah-humbug!.. everyone has all the infrastructure they need in their garage.

    1. vdiv says:

      I don’t have a garage and if my condo wasn’t one of those facing the street I would not be able to charge at home. Since my employer is stuck in the middle ages I can’t charge at work either. That would have precluded me from getting a plugin vehicle.

      That is unless both the condo association and my employer spring into deploying charging infrastructure (i.e. more than a single charger).

      1. Bonaire says:

        I keep telling people that EVs will not take off until business places put in a string of 120V charger plugs that people with EVs can sip away on all day. L2 charging isn’t what is going to do it. If you can get a 40-mile charge while at work for 9-hours, a lot of people will want to get into EVs.

  4. Voice of Reason says:

    Infrastructure? That is why Chevy built the Volt. Nissan’s problem is telling people they have a 100 mile range car and in reality it is 68 miles. And that is only starting at day-1. Huge difference. When after a year you are down to 60 miles you start getting into Volt territory. The “mass” consumer will have range anxiety and shy away. Either build the required infrastructure yourself, or stop complaining. GM won this technological debate.

    1. Bonaire says:

      An educated consumer is our best customer.
      – Sy Syms

      Basically – as the EV buying community becomes more educated, the less desireable the Leaf was. They’re now lowering the lease costs to try to increase desire based on the cost of gasoline rather than making the car itself apealing.

    2. Brian says:

      “Either build the required infrastructure yourself, or stop complaining.”

      Hear, hear! Nissan already has a large network of dealers. Install L3 infrastructure there. Even easier than Tesla’s ambitious supercharger plans.

  5. georgeLeaf says:

    actually, I think Ghosn is only partly correct. more fast charging is essential, but it’s also a must that the battery capacity increase significantly. the reason gas tanks are so large even though there is already a gas station practically on every corner is that people just don’t want to think about running out of “gas” hardly at all. My ipad has an 11 hour battery and therefore a rather slow charger sufices, much like my tooth brush and I hardly ever have to think about it… every so often I plug them in overnight. EV’s need to be more like that. being able to plug in conveniently in one’s garage goes a long way to make up for the lack of infrastructure and small battery in the Leaf but an increase in battery capacity is the only thing that is really going to ease people’s minds, it’s just the nature of the beast and can’t be ignored.