Carlos Ghosn: Nissan LEAF Electric Car ‘Becoming Profitable’, Atlanta Still Top of LEAF Sales

Like any automaker bringing a new car to market based on fringe technology, there’s a period of time — anything from a few months to a few years — where the automaker loses money on every car sold. The length of time it takes an automaker to reach profitability on a particular new model depends on the costs incurred making the vehicle, the price it is sold for, and how popular it sells.

The Nissan LEAF is now profitable, says Nissan LEAF Carlos Ghosn

The Nissan LEAF is now profitable, says Nissan LEAF Carlos Ghosn

Like Toyota’s Prius hybrid, Nissan’s all-electric LEAF originally cost Nissan far more to make than it was sold for, representing a massive loss for the Japanese automaker. But after nearly four years on the market, Nissan’s popular electric hatchback is finally becoming profitable.

That’s according to Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who told journalists at a dinner held last week at the Paris Motor Show that Nissan is finally starting to see rewards for investing so heavily in electric car technology.

“We are getting there,” Ghosn said on the question of LEAF profitability. “Are we amortising and deprecating everything we have spent? No. But if you look at the margin of profit — the direct cost of the car and the revenue of the car — we are getting into positive, which is good for this technology.”

What does this mean in real terms? To date, Nissan and its alliance partner Renault have invested more than $5 billion in electric car technology in order to lead the plug-in car marketplace, including the building of specialist facilities for the manufacturing of electric car battery packs and motors and equipping factories for electric vehicle production. While Renault-Nissan’s total electric vehicle program has not yet shown a return on its investment as a whole, the LEAF as a model is now profitable. In other words, Nissan is no-longer making a loss on each and every car it makes, although there’s some hint that the wider electric car investment from the alliance will take longer to pay dividends.

Naturally, the LEAF is proving more popular in some countries and markets than others, due to local incentives, attitudes towards plug-in vehicles and individual dealer interest. And while many would assume the cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle might top the charts as Nissan’s biggest LEAF marketplace, Ghosn disclosed that Atlanta, Georgia remains Nissan’s number one LEAF market, with more than 1,000 of August’s LEAF sales totals for the U.S. coming from Atlanta.

“No. 2 is San Francisco. No. 3 is Seattle, and No. 4 is Los Angeles,” Ghosn confirmed. “These four cities represent 80 percent of the sales, so when 80 percent of the sales are concentrated in four cities you can imagine the potential you are going to unleash when other cities follow.”

Nissan LEAF sales continue to rise -- which can only be a good thing for Nissan in the long term.

Nissan LEAF sales continue to rise — which can only be a good thing for Nissan in the long term.

It’s that potential that should excite electric vehicle enthusiasts and Nissan board members alike. Especially when you consider how the LEAF fares to another pivotal ‘green’ vehicle in historical terms: the Toyota Prius.

With an estimated 140,000 LEAFs sold to date since the model was launched in late 2010, the LEAF still has a long way to go to hit the kind of production figures enjoyed by Toyota’s famous Prius hybrid family. But while the Toyota Prius may still rule when it comes to sales figures, Ghosn’s statement on LEAF profitability shows that the Nissan LEAF is currently in an equal — or perhaps better — position after four years of sales than the Prius was after its first years.

While the exact specifics of model profitability aren’t generally discussed by automakers, we can say for sure that after almost four years of sales, the Nissan LEAF has sold more than 140,000 cars. After a similar amount of time since launch, Toyota had sold just 81,700 Prii — although we note that Toyota chose a much smaller launch market for its Prius than Nissan did for the LEAF which will undoubtedly skew the figures a little.

If we consider where the Toyota Prius was back in 2001 after four years of sales and look at where it is now, we think the future has to be similarly bright for Nissan’s electric LEAF.


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  • Esl1999 .

    If the next the generation Leaf has the same meaningful redesign as the 2004 Prius had, then it’s possible for sales to continue climbing. Entry level Prii are more affordable, so you can forget about (historically speaking) the Leaf catching up In sales to the Prius.

    • CMCNestT .

      Each successive generation of the LEAF will become increasingly more affordable.nnnThe future is electric not hybrid.nnnThere is zero doubt LEAF will surpass hybrid Prius.

  • Heinz Benz

    While Nissan can now announce some profitability there is a danger that sales which benefit from various subsidies will see those subsidies cut and sales will fall. I hope EV subsidies continue for as long as oil subsidies exist. If cheaper batteries don’t arrive in the next two years we are going to see a massive drop in sales if subsidies are cut or if oil proices continue to fall. Come on Elon Musk, build those gigafactories and get the cheap batteries flowing.nnPlug-in Hybrids will also benefit from cheaper batteries. EVs are not the best solution for everyone. There is no need to pick sides, the market is how it is.

  • Lee Wilson

    Its time the people speak up and stop subsidies to these experimental cars. why must every tax payer pay for a few to own these over rated cars. Figures of 170,000 Leafs sold globally well thats not even a drop in the barrel. 82.8 million conventional cars were sold worldwide , and everyone shouts because of 170k Leafs. This is just another cash for clunkers program or experimental adventure were only a few get the Leaf but everyone else pays the price for a poor product. I would be better off to drive the Russian Tribant than the Leaf, however the Leaf does look better but we need range and a better method of charging. Is the Leaf a car you can depend on for 300k miles like many other gas cars? i dont think so . you will see within a few years as the heavily electronic car begins to need dozens of relays, battery and other sophisticated electronics replaced. this car will soon disappear.

    • Andyj

      Tell you what. If Leaf owners are getting something for nothing. Buy one.nPut up or shut up. Its too late for a pebble to call for a vote when the avalanche has already begun.