Carlos Ghosn: With Support, Nissan LEAF Sales In U.S. Could Top 50,000 Eventually

Back in December, the Nissan celebrated the sale of the 150,000th Nissan LEAF to have been made since the all-electric family hatchback launched in late 2010. Then in March, Nissan North America celebrated the sale of the 75,000th LEAF to be registered in the U.S.

Nissan's Carlos Ghosn says it's possible for the LEAF to hit 50,000 annual sales target in the U.S.

Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn says it’s possible for the LEAF to hit 50,000 annual sales target in the U.S.

In recent months, sales of the LEAF have cooled somewhat, driven in part by cold weather and anticipation that Nissan will be unveiling its second-generation, LEAF — with a range potentially double that of the existing model — some time in the next year.

Despite that however, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says he’s confident that total sales of the LEAF in the U.S. this year could one day top 50,000 cars per year. There’s just one little catch: the U.S. needs a better charging infrastructure.

Talking with AutomotiveNews (Subscription required) at the New York Auto Show last month, Ghosn said that Nissan is working hard to increase lithium-ion battery cell production at its custom-built manufacturing facility in Smyrna, Tennessee. Located near to the production line where Nissan manufacturers all of its North American-market LEAFs, the battery facility is ramping up to produce enough cells to cope with an increase in LEAF sales.

Last month, Nissan celebrated the sale of its 75,000th LEAf in the U.S.

Last month, Nissan celebrated the sale of its 75,000th LEAf in the U.S.

“Selling 50,000 EVs in North America should not be, in my opinion, a task which is beyond our capacity,” he said. “I feel very good about the capacity we have today.”

During the first quarter of this year, Nissan sold just 4,085 LEAFs in the U.S., a 21.2 percent drop on the same quarter last year. For the remaining three quarters of the year, Nissan would have to sustain an average monthly sales total of at least 5102 cars per month in order to meet Ghosn’s targets.

It’s a figure that isn’t impossible, but one that is improbable, especially given the fact that sales of a vehicle tend to peter out as it heads towards a known mid-cycle upgrade or next-generation replacement.

Yet Ghosn says the key to reaching the 50,000 car target for this year in the future is easy. Local and national government, along with public-private coalitions need to invest more in public charging infrastructure. In short, he argues, governments need to agree to support electric car charging infrastructure, and then build it, before electric cars become mainstream.

More charging provision is key, says Ghosn, to mass-adoption.

More charging provision is key to mass adoption, says Ghosn.

“As long as you don’t have charging infrastructure, you know, we’re not going to see a very strong development of the electric car,” Ghosn said. “And the countries which are going to have this charging infrastructure are going to see a very big burst of zero-emission [vehicles].”

“Unfortunately, it’s decisions made by government, and execution made by the state, the cities and the communities, which means that we’re going to have to be patient,” he said of areas where electric car charging provision is sub-par.

While many would argue one solution to that particular problem — specifically range anxiety — is to improve the battery pack, Ghosn prefers to focus on ubiquity of charging.

“First car I bought — did I care about the range of the car?” he said. “No, I didn’t care about the range. And you know why? Because we have a gasoline station every three, four miles, wherever I am. So I don’t care about the car driving 300 miles.”

Given most people find their bladders need emptying before that magic figure arrives, we think he might have a point. But as we’ve covered recently, charging networks around the world are already in a crisis caused by incompatible software, unreliable hardware, and terrible management.

Do you think Nissan will one day reach 50,000 LEAF sales total per year in the U.S? If not, why?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

[Edit: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the target as being 50,000 cars for 2015. The target set by Ghosn is not specifically for 2015, but for future years. Thanks to Nissan for pointing this error out.]

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