I love this Nissan Leaf commercial, which imagines a world in which everything runs on gasoline, even our computers. We need zero-emission cars like the Leaf, but will we be able to get them?
The problem, of course, is the fallout from the Japanese earthquake, which has severely disrupted supply of not only Japanese cars, but Americans ones, too. It’s an interconnected world.
There are 20,000 U.S. reservations for the Nissan Leaf, but only about 10,000 actual customers because about half the people who signed up aren’t going through with it. Still, it will be a while before everybody gets their car. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn predicts an excellent June, with 1,500 cars delivered. It’s the biggest month to date, and Ghosn says, “The last thing we want to do is frustrate [our customers].”
But sales averaged only 113 a month in the first third of the year, though 1,142 Leafs were delivered in May. The company originally planned to import 20,000 cars in 2011, but it’s throttled that back to 10,000 — enough for its current reservation holders, but not for the new customers it wants to sign up.
It’s not just the car delivery that’s been delayed. Earlier this week, Nissan EV spokesman Hideaki Watanabe said that the company probably won’t be able to start making Leafs at its plant in Tennessee by the end of 2012, as planned. Parts disruption caused by the March 11 earthquake is again being held responsible for a start date now seen as sometime in early 2013.
I know people who have gotten their Leafs and are very happy with them, including Felix Kramer of CalCars.org, a clean car advocate who owns a Chevrolet Volt, too. But I know more people, especially in the Northeast, who are in limbo.
Some Leaf owners say their delivery dates keep getting moved back — from April to May to June, and now to July. Back in March, when the Luna Spirit ship (at left) departed from Japan (a day ahead of the earthquake) and headed for Long Beach with 600 Leafs aboard, it was major news in the electric vehicle community. The slow delivery actually preceded the natural disaster, but was mightily aggravated by it.
I visited Dallas recently and heard a rumor down there that Bankston Nissan had a dozen of Leafs on the lot. I was intrigued by that, because it seemed possible, barely, that there could be cars that somehow evaded the waiting list and got shipped to parts of the country that are on the rollout lists but aren’t too hip to EVs yet. But I called Bankston posing as a would-be customer and was told that the lot was empty. I was also promised a call-back but didn’t get it.
Californians who haven’t gotten their Leafs are anxious because the largely bankrupt state has a limited number of $5,000 cash rebates for green car consumers. The program might run out of money as early as July. My own cousin Charlie, who lives outside Los Angeles, is one of these folks.
Charlie has a Honda Civic Hybrid that, until recently, could ride like a grandee in the HOV lanes. That’s a very important perk in congested L.A. But now the HOV rules are tightened up, and only battery electrics get the all-important sticker. So Charlie has been talking Leaf, but he’s unsure how much it will end up costing him, with the rebate uncertain and a garage charge to install. The federal subsidies for the chargers, worth $2,000, are also somewhat uncertain.
Charlie is true-blue green, and he’d be not only a loyal Leaf owner but a proselytizer who would spread the love of electric cars far and wide. These are Nissan’s peeps, and it has to keep them happy.
By June 3, Nissan had sold 7,554 Leafs around the world. It’s got a lot of rampin’ up to do.