Green

Nissan to deliver only five Leafs this year, more delays look imminent

Uh-oh, Nissan. There’s been word a-brewing on car forums for that the carmaker is experiencing delays in delivering the much-anticipated all-electric Leaf, which is slated to start arriving next month.

But only five Leafs will arrive in the U.S. next month — one for each of the five states the Leaf is initially launching in, according to Ray Ishak, fleet sales manager at the Campbell Nelson Nissan dealership in Seattle. VentureBeat first reported in September that the initial rollout would be just 200 cars — a small delivery to begin with, especially considering that only five states will see the Leaf in the initial launch.

“Nissan is saying there will only be one car per state for December delivery so they can just keep face and (live up to) their original statement of December delivery,” Ishak said.

It appears that Nissan has recently changed promised delivery dates, making dealers nervous. First, it pushed back the delivery of demo cars until at least March, Ishak said — initially, one “demo” Leaf was promised to each dealer by December, to be used for test drives. Nissan also recently balked at a request to deliver 25 Leafs to the city of Seattle by May 1, telling Ishak the best it could do would be five cars by the city’s hoped-for delivery date. Cars that were initially scheduled for December delivery were pushed back to January, and Ishak says he currently doesn’t see any cars in queue for December production.

“If you want … your customers to get car a sooner [rather] than later, don’t order silver,” Ishak recalled the Leaf’s operations manager advising Nissan dealers. Evidently there’s a big backlog on that color.

Nissan spokeswoman Katherine Zachary declined to give numbers on December deliveries. However, she told us in an email: “The reports regarding December deliveries to consumers are speculative. In order to prioritize our first consumers, we have shifted back the delivery of our dealer demos. Consumers in all of our launch markets instead are getting the opportunity to test drive the Nissan LEAF on the Drive Electric Tour.”

The changes have been enough to worry dealers and hopeful buyers alike, some of whom vent on the popular Nissan-Leaf.net forum. Ishak and others have suggested that the carmaker may be intentionally scaling back supply, perhaps because the Leaf will sell for a higher price in Japan ($45,000 compared to about $33,000 in the U.S.), or to take advantage of favorable exchange rates.

Given what looks to be a molasses-slow trickle of Leafs coming out in the next few months, it’s unclear how Nissan will make good on the 20,000 reservations it has for the Leaf. The further tightening in Leaf availability is raising questions about whether all of those cars will hit driveways within 2011. Ishak estimates that wannabe Leaf owners who didn’t get in on the now-closed reservations will likely have to wait until 2012 to get a car.

On this, Zachary responded: “We never have announced projected volume for 2011. We have said there are 20,000 reservations in the United States right now, but not all of those reservations will convert to orders. However, we’ll be reopening reservations in 2011, so there will be more coming into the pipeline at the same time.”

Between Nissan’s reported delivery troubles and electric-vehicle maker Coda losing its CEO earlier this month, it seems that, of the soon-to-launch electric car makers, only GM is seeing any good press. The maker of the range-extending Chevy Volt just secured an order for 12,000 electric cars over the next five years in a massive fleet order from GE.

Ishak says he’s not worried that disappointed Leaf buyers will migrate instead to the Volt, but he allows that limited supplies could push some buyers over to startup and IPO hopeful Coda, which is to release its all-electric sedan in 2011. Pike Research analyst John Gartner echoed the potential for startups like Coda rising to meet “overflow demand” from the Leaf in an earlier interview with VentureBeat:

“Coda’s advantage at this point is that it’s probably a supply-constrained market. There’s a lot of interest in electric vehicles that outstrip the available supply for the next 18 to 24 months,” Gartner said.