For such a hotly anticipated car, the Nissan Leaf has seen deliveries creep slowly off the assembly line — but don’t tell the Department of Energy.
The DOE, carrying through on President Obama’s State of the Union speech in which he called for one million electric vehicles to be on U.S. roads by 2015, released a status report this week showing that by “conservative” estimates, 1.2 million electric cars will be available in the U.S. by 2015.
As we pointed out yesterday, at least one number in the report is decidedly unconservative, which is that 25,000 Nissan Leafs will be made available this year (see chart below). The company has 20,000 reservations for the Leaf and has delivered just over 100 cars in the U.S. since its December launch. Nissan executive Brian Carolin told The Detroit News that the company would have a hard time hitting 20,000 Leafs this year, but predicted “a few hundred” of the cars would be sold this month:
“I think 20,000 will be too high. You just have to make this launch absolutely perfect. It’s not a numbers game.”
When reached today for comment about Leaf production plans this year, Nissan spokeswoman Katherine Zachary confirmed Carolin’s comments and said: “Production is going to be based on demand. We can’t project what volume’s going to be down the road.”
We reached out to the DOE for comment, but as of press time had not heard back.
By the DOE report’s account, 300,000 of the expected 1.2 million electric cars in 2015 will be Nissan Leafs, meaning the government expects Leafs to account for one in every four electric cars available by 2015. So far, 19 Leafs were delivered in December and 87 in January in the U.S., for a total of 106 Leafs at last month’s end. However, in some aspects, the DOE report may still be conservative: it estimates 15,000 Chevrolet Volts will be produced this year, but GM recently announced it would raise production to 25,000 this year due to high demand, up from the previously announced number of 10,000.
Nissan has struggled with delays, and this week admitted it had not done a good job communicating the slow ramp-up to customers. The company initially planned for 200 Leafs to be delivered in December, but then scaled it back to just five Leafs, according to a Nissan dealer VentureBeat spoke to last year. Nissan spokesperson, David Reuters, called the report “patently false” and said that instead, 50 Leafs would be delivered in December with two shipments, one at the start of the month and one at the end.
But that didn’t happen either. Instead, the company sold 19 Leafs that month. Nissan’s Zachary told us:
“The second shipment did arrive in the port in December, but when you process cars in the port, it can take a very long time. Sometimes weather messes it up. It was nothing remarkable, it’s just sort of what happens when you move cars around the country,” meaning that some of the cars may have arrived in December but weren’t delivered until January.
“We’re on track. I wouldn’t focus too much on the problems. It’s been going exactly as planned. We anticipated there to be a ramp up,” Zachary said. “This has been a successful launch so far.”
A slow launch doesn’t mean Nissan wouldn’t eventually get to that 300,000 number the government is counting on to hit its one-million-car goal. In fact, the company plans to ramp up production in March and April, at which time cars will be produced by the thousands instead of the hundreds, and pledged that customers who have been allowed to order thus far will get their Leafs before the end of the summer. (Most of the 1,100 or so Leafs produced to date have been delivered in Japan, according to Autoblog Green.)
Nissan has 20,000 reservations for the Leaf and says 40 percent of the reservation holders offered the opportunity to buy a Leaf (an unknown number out of the 20,000 total) have elected to carry through with the purchase, which suggests that Leaf orders currently total less than 8,000 cars.
While automotive launch delays are not uncommon, there’s been a great deal of scrutiny on the Leaf, the first electric car to be mass-produced for consumers. And it looks like the DOE didn’t get the memo. The government’s estimates are below.