Automakers With First EVs Not Playing Around: Profitability Will Happen

By Bill Visnic June 16, 2010

Executives for several key companies pushing electric-vehicle early adoption insist at the Automotive News Green Car Conference today they're not in the EV business to lose money and their initial ventures will be profitable - early in the game. Nissan Leaf - 270.JPG

With its Leaf battery-powered five-passenger compact car, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. is underway with the industry's most ambitious and high-profile plan to launch EVs for volume adoption. Brian Carolin, Nissan North America's senior vice president for sales and marketing, said at the conference that the Leaf will be profitable sometime during the lifespan of the first-generation model, which launches in the U.S. this winter.Carolin said Nissan is convinced battery electrics are a sustainable business model.

And Richard Canny, CEO for Think North America and Think global, the company that's made steady progress with its well-known City EV, said Think will become profitable next year.

Another panelist at the Green Car conference, Richard Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy for BMW North America Inc., said with its battery-powered Mini E that BMW is not yet near the phase of EV production that equates to a traditional retail selling, being that the Mini E is a pilot program. Steinberg said BMW will launch its Megacity electric car in 2013 as its first volume gambit, but wouldn't say when profitability might be attached.

Carolin said Nissan now has accepted 14,000 deposits of $99 for the Leaf and that potential customers will be able to test-drive Leafs in October. And with practically no marketing campaign to speak of, he said awareness of the Leaf remains low. Nissan is targeting sales of 50,000 units in the first full year of sales, initially concentrating on markets in the West and large metro areas.

Carolin stressed the Leaf - with a claimed driving range of about 100 miles in ideal conditions - will cost little more than a conventional compact car after the $7,500 federal tax credit is applied, bringing the base price of a Leaf to $25,280. In California, another $5,000 state tax credit reduces the effective price to slightly more than $20,000.

Nissan Leaf photo by the automaker  

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