TODAY Nissan Insider turns its attention to the all-electric LEAF – and the future certainly seems to be looking good for the award-winning hatchback.
Around 1,100 of the emission-free cars are now on the road in Britain – and UK production starts in Sunderland next year.
We caught up with Nissan GB’s Marketing Director Steve McLennan (pictured) who gave us an exclusive insight into the company’s latest thinking on LEAF.
What are your thoughts on the EV scene in general?
Some elements of the press are sceptical about the current sales performance of EVs and also their future sales performance and longevity… they are questioning whether EVs are a sustainable answer to low-emission motoring.
The current pace of development of the EV market is a direct reflection of how few good EVs there are. That will start to change later this year with the advent most notably of the Renault Zoe.
Nissan’s view has always been that it’s nice to be first – we were definitely first with a credible EV – but the market isn’t going to be made by Nissan in isolation, it’s going to be made collectively.
My view has always been that competition is a good thing and when the competition arrives and we start to make the concept of EVs appeal to the consumer, it becomes a product fight. And we’ve got a fantastic product.
So how are sales of LEAF going?
There are 1,100 LEAFs on the road in the UK. Since LEAF has been on sale it has taken between 65 and 70 per cent of the electric vehicle market. That goes to show how good the product is relative to other EVs out there.
But we do realise that market development is fairly gentle at the moment. We don’t expect any ramping up to serious numbers until the competition arrives in 2013 and 2014.
If there was an expectation that LEAFs were going to fly out of the door and that we’d be selling 10,000 after six months, that expectation never came from Nissan.
And production starts in Sunderland next year...
Yes, and we will be developing the LEAF product when that happens. We will have a wider product line-up to position into the UK market. At the moment, we effectively just do one model but in future we will be doing three and that will obviously help us.
We will introduce a Visia, Acenta and a Tekna grade of LEAF. That will obviously elongate the LEAF in terms of price positioning and make LEAF as visually affordable as possible.
Any other moves on the affordability front?
The other development along those lines is that we are currently studying the concept of offering battery leasing which will also improve the affordability of the car.
We’ll still offer outright purchase, PCP and conventional leasing, but we’ll probably add battery leasing as well.
How many Nissan dealers are selling LEAF at the moment?
Currently we have around 32 dealerships selling the LEAF, but by the end of the April next year, we will have grown that to around 182 dealerships. We will be rolling out an additional 150 dealer partners.
That’s another important part of making the market. Customer convenience in terms of visibility and where they can access LEAF, drive LEAF and have their LEAF serviced, is going to be important as we move towards higher volumes and a more mass-market approach to EV.
Dealers are all receiving a ‘LEAF evaluation car’ so even if they haven’t officially been appointed a LEAF dealer yet, we will supply them with a LEAF.
The idea behind that car is that they demonstrate it to as much of their service parc as possible. We’re a big believer – and we see it in the numbers – that when people test-drive a LEAF it really does change the perceptions of what an EV can deliver.
These evaluation cars will be going out over the next six to eight weeks and the idea is that dealers put as many of their service customers into those cars as possible.
We’ve covered the Big Turn On here on Nissan Insider. Has that been a success for you?
In essence, what we were hoping to achieve across Europe in a 100-day period, was to garner interest from a million unique online users to ‘turn on’ to LEAF. We reached the target ahead of the deadline we set ourselves.
In terms of direct interest with our dealers, we have now handed off to the dealers – as a result of the Big Turn On – something in the region of 450 test-drive requests for LEAF.
Any final thoughts?
There’s a lot going on at Nissan to make LEAF very appealing to consumers and the good news is that the competition are going to be coming in and helping to educate and convince consumers towards the concept of EV.
If that’s achieved, we can be confident that we will get more than our fair share of the market because of the quality of the LEAF product.