Posted by: David Welch on January 12, 2010
If there a lesson that the auto industry has learned about selling hybrid-electric cars, it’s that it’s tough to take on Toyota. The Japanese giant sold almost 12,000 copies of the Prius in December next to about 1,600 for Honda’s Insight, which is also a dedicated hybrid.
Other companies are taking notice. In November, General Motors shelved plans to build a Prius fighter for its Chevrolet division that would have targeted 50 miles per gallon, preferring to focus on its Chevrolet Volt electric car. Similarly, Nissan is looking at its Leaf electric car as its best green play.
The company has a hybrid Altima and will launch a gasoline-electric version of its Infiniti M sedan in March 2011. But the company’s biggest plan is for the Leaf, said Carlos Tavares, executive vice president for Nissan Motor Co, during an interview at the Detroit auto show. “Only the leader wins,” Tavares said. “We know who has taken the leadership position, it’s Toyota. That’s why we decided to go to the ultimate goal of zero emissions.”
Nissan figures it can establish a lead in electric vehicles with its Leaf EV, which goes on sale in December. Tavares said Nissan has already had 35,000 people express interest in the car. That is a good indicator that they can sell the car successfully, he said. But Nissan will have a better idea once they start taking deposits this spring.
The company’s aspirations are huge. Nissan’s plant in Smyrna can build up to 150,000 of the Leaf when it starts production in late 2012. The first car will come from a plant in Japan. Tavares said it will be competitively priced with other compact cars. But selling 150,000 cars will be tough. The car can go 100 miles on a charge, which will limit its appeal. To give you an idea, Nissan sold fewer than 10,000 Altima hybrids last year and Toyota sold 140,000 Priuses. Nissan is taking a different road, but selling all that the company produce won’t be an easy ride.