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Nissan Will Miss Leaf Sales Targets, Says Ghosn

Maker still upbeat about EV opportunities.

by on Nov.16, 2012

Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn shown with the Infiniti LE battery-car concept.

A day after declaring Nissan’s commitment to automotive electrification, CEO Carlos Ghosn acknowledged the maker will fall short of its admittedly ambitious 2012 sales goals for the first of those battery cars, the Nissan Leaf.

After a sharp downturn early this year, however, sales of the mass-market electric vehicle took a sharp turn upward last month – and Nissan is expecting to see an even bigger shift in momentum when it opens its all-new U.S. battery car assembly line next month.

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Nonetheless, “The forecast we have given ourselves for the year will not be reached,” Ghosn acknowledged during an interview on Bloomberg Television.

The maker narrowly missed its goal last year, with U.S. sales of 9,679 Leaf battery cars, but it will fall even further behind for 2012. Through October, demand was down 15.6%, at 6,791 of the vehicles. But last month saw the first big surge of the month, sales climbing 86% to 1,579.

Nissan had targeted 20,000 sales for 2012 and even bigger numbers in the years ahead.

More recently, officials have claimed the downturn during much of 2012 reflected the maker’s need to shift supplies of the Leaf to other markets where battery-car sales were just commencing. They insist they will be in better position to supply potential demand with the launch of operations at the big Nissan assembly complex in Smyrna, Tennessee that also builds the maker’s popular Altima sedan.

To further increase consumer interest, Nissan will launch a “de-contented,” lower-priced version of the Leaf in 2013. And the maker plans to introduce an all-new electric vehicle for its luxury brand, the Infiniti LE, sometime in 2014.

The concession about sluggish sales of 2012 contrast Ghosn’s upbeat forecast made earlier this year when the executive said he felt “very good” about the 20,000-sale target for 2012.

Ghosn, however, doesn’t appear to be worried about the current shortfall.  During an appearance at a CEO conference in Washington, D.C., this week, the executive forecast cumulative sales of 1.5 million electric vehicles by Nissan and its French alliance partner Renault by 2015. And Ghosn is looking to see sales reach an annual pace of 500,000 Renault/Nissan battery cars before the decade is out.

(For more on Ghosn’s appearance at the Wall Street Journal CEO Conference, Click Here.)

However, he also emphasized during the Washington event that governments must assist in building demand for high-efficiency, low or zero-emission battery-based vehicles – especially the American government – asserting, “There must be some kind of vision, policy about energy.”

Nissan isn’t the only maker struggling to meet its own goals – but also predicting a much brighter future for electrification.

General Motors will miss its target of selling 45,000 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrids in the U.S. this year. But demand was nonetheless up 286% year-over-year, though the end of October, at 19,309. And Volt sales hit a record 2,961 last month.

But, as with Ghosn, GM global product chief remains bullish. During a presentation to a media seminar on electrification on Wednesday, Barra forecast GM would log cumulative sales of 500,000 battery-based vehicles – including conventional hybrids, plug-ins and battery cars – by 2017.

(For more on Barra’s comments, Click Here.)

GM will launch the Chevrolet Spark EV,  its first battery-electric vehicle since the 1999 cancellation of the EV1 program, at the upcoming L.A. auto show.

(For more on the 2014 Chevy Spark EV, Click Here.)

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