Nissan Likely To Delay U.S Production Of Leaf Electric Car

By Bill Visnic June 14, 2011

2011 Nissan Leaf production line.jpg

A senior Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. executive said today the company probably will not hit its target of launching U.S. production of the Leaf electric vehicle in December, 2012, as setbacks from the March 11 magnitude-9 earthquake in Japan will force a delay in the timeline Nissan originally set to start U.S. manufacturing of the world’s first mass-market battery electric car. Hideaki Watanabe, corporate vice president for Nissan’s Global Zero-Emission Vehicle Business Unit, would not offer a new target date for when U.S. production of the high-profile Leaf might begin, but suggested the delay would run several weeks, if not months.

“Because of the earthquake, we in a very difficult situation,” in terms of hitting the launch timetable for U.S. manufacturing, Watanabe said at a small media gathering in Detroit today. “We’re (still) assessing the impact of the earthquake,” and what it means to meeting the late-2012 target Nissan first set to begin Leaf production at its multi-vehicle assembly plant in Smyrna, TN, that currently is being tooled to manufacture the Leaf. Nissan also is building a new manufacturing plant in Smyrna to make the lithium-ion battery pack that powers the Leaf.

“We’re not giving up yet,” on hitting the target date for the Leaf’s U.S. manufacturing launch, said Watanabe, but he added that the company, like most others in Japan, lost months in recovering from the earthquake and resulting tsunami and had to devote its full resources to restoring normal operations. Now, that lost time probably can’t be fully recouped, he said, even thought the Leaf’s start of production in Smyrna still is 18 months away. Watanabe said the Japan disaster was an especially crippling blow for the Leaf, as it came close on the heels of Nissan’s manufacturing launch of the car at its plant in Oppama, Japan, adding to the difficulty and complication of volume-manufacturing a vehicle fundamentally different from any Nissan had produced before.

High U.S. Content
Thanks to vehicle assembly at the Smyrna plant, as well as the batteries that will come from the new manufacturing facility close by, Watanabe said Nissan is targeting a domestic content ratio of better than 80 percent for the U.S.-built Leaf. He said the Japan disaster has not caused Nissan to substantially review its plans for sourcing Leaf components for the U.S. manufacturing operation; it was the Japan disaster’s impact on Japan-based parts suppliers that caused much of the suspension or slowdown of vehicle manufacturing in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Nissan also said today it is exploring ways to use the Leaf’s batteries to power a home in times of brief power outages. It is not a new idea, but Watanabe said “I want it as soon as possible,” and that he has asked engineers to have a prototype of the system ready by the end of this year. The Leaf’s 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack contains enough energy to supply the typical American house’s electricity demand for about 24 hours, he said. Owners of the first Leafs would have the capability to use the car for backup power with such a system, he said, because all the required new technology would be off-board from the vehicle, he said.

Nissan Leaf Statistics
Watanabe also provided some interesting data derived from the initial 7,554 Leafs sold globally through June 3 – although most of the information has been gleaned from customer use in Japan. He said the highest proportion of buyers, 42 percent, are 60 or older. An amazing 74 percent paid cash for the car. Fleet sales so far have accounted for 60 percent of total sales, although Nissan expects that ratio to reverse as deliveries to individuals begin to catch up with early fleet purchases. Looking at combined use from U.S. and Japanese customers, about 90 percent drive less than 62 miles per day – well less than the Leaf’s stated maximum range of 100 miles.

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