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Nissan Ramping Up Production of Leaf

Maker struggling to meet orders, while competitor Chevy also boosting Volt production.

by on Feb.08, 2011

As many as 20,000 customers are waiting for their Leaf battery cars.

With an estimated 20,000 orders waiting, Nissan is desperately struggling to catch up on demand for its new Leaf battery-electric vehicle and will increase production as quickly as possible, company officials have revealed.

So far, less than 1,000 of the so-called BEVs have been delivered since the nation’s first mass-market electric vehicle went on sale at the end of 2010, with the maker saying it has been consciously taking its time to ensure it gets things right with the first cars off the assembly line.

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But production should jump into the “thousands” starting in March, according to Nissan’s senior U.S. manager of sales and marketing, Brian Carolin.

“I’m confident during April, May you’re going to see a significant number of deliveries,” the executive told reporters.

GM's new global marketing czar, Joel Ewanick, shown with the Chevrolet Volt.

Nissan will not release its specific 2011 Leaf sales forecast, but last autumn it cut off early a preliminary order bank after 20,000 potential customers placed advanced orders – backed by $99 deposits – for the battery vehicle.  Company officials have said relatively few of those orders have been rescinded despite delays in getting Leaf into showrooms.

Many observers have dubbed 2011 the year of the electric vehicle, and a variety of small makers, such as Tesla, Amp and Fisker are seeing the coming months as critical in their efforts to penetrate a market long dominated by big brands, such as Nissan and General Motors.

The latter is struggling to ramp up production of its own battery-based vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt.  While Nissan’s Leaf relies solely on battery power to get an estimated 100 miles range per charge, Chevy took a very different approach, using a plug-in hybrid powertrain for Volt that gets 25 to 50 miles on a charge before a small internal combustion engine kicks in for extended drives.

Both Leaf and Volt have garnered a number of awards since their launch, the Volt most recently being named North American Car of the Year, while Leaf is the only Asian finalist in the World Car of the Year balloting.  (Volt missed the cut.)

Chevy has produced only a few 100 more battery vehicles than Nissan, so far this year, and appears to have more modest aspirations, with a stated goal of selling just 10,000 Volts in 2010.  But CEO Dan Akerson has said he also wants to ramp up production, and the target for Volt in 2011 is 45,000.

Nissan has, meanwhile, said it expects to have worldwide production capacity in place, by 2014, to produce 250,000 battery cars.  That would include both Leaf and several other Nissan and Infiniti models now under development.