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Nissan Confirms Slow Launch of Leaf Battery Car

Delays likely to continue through spring, maker says.

by on Jan.22, 2011

It could take awhile for delivery even if you've already placed an order for the Nissan Leaf.

A slow and cautious approach to rolling out the all-new Nissan Leaf could frustrate customers who’ve been waiting to take delivery of the market’s first mass-production battery-electric vehicle.

The Japanese maker has confirmed to that it has decided to slow the initial production ramp-up “to get it absolutely perfect and make sure there’s no perception the car isn’t ready for market,” said Nissan’s chief U.S. spokesman David Reuter.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that could lead to some frustration among anxious motorists – 20,000 of which have already placed preliminary orders for the compact, battery-powered sedan.  Since its launch, last month, U.S. deliveries have only been “in the 100s,” according to spokesman Reuter, who anticipated, “We’ll be getting up to normal production by April.”

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The challenge for Nissan is that it is working not only with an all-new product platform but with an entirely new powertrain technology, one that has never been put into truly high-volume production before.  One of the most difficult issues is ensuring that the Leaf’s lithium-ion battery pack comes out of the plant in shape to meet the demands of the automotive environment.

Nissan isn’t the only automaker facing this challenge.  General Motors is off to a slow ramp-up of production with the Chevrolet Volt, the extended-range electric vehicle that was recently named North American Car of the Year.  (Leaf was a top-three runner-up in that competition.)

As with Nissan’s $33,000 battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, Chevy is finding there’s even more demand than it had optimistically hoped for.  It originally planned to produce just 10,000 Volts in 2011 but GM CEO Dan Akerson recently told that the automaker now hopes to bump that up to 25,000 or more.

But both GM and Nissan are well aware that consumers remain skeptical about battery power and that a significant recall or even a more minor technical glitch could sorely tarnish both the technology and their brand images.

So, despite some criticism for the delays, “We’ll look back, in six months, and say this was the right thing to do,” said Nissan spokesman Reuter.

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