Nissan’s Ghosn Wants to Double U.S. Leaf Sales After 2013 Surge

Jan 08, 2014 8:10 pm ET

Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Nissan Motor Co., which reported record U.S. sales of Leaf hatchbacks in 2013, is optimistic that the world’s most prolific electric-car maker can soon double deliveries, Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said.

Sales of the battery-powered Leaf jumped 130 percent last year to 22,610 vehicles, aided by 2,529 deliveries in December, the most ever in a single month for the Yokohama, Japan-based company. That figure should keep rising, Ghosn said in a CNBC interview yesterday.

“We are now on a trend of 3,000 cars a month in the U.S., which is about 36,000 cars” a year, Ghosn said. “The next step is moving up to 4,000 a month,” he said, without setting a target date.

Nissan and other automakers delivered a record number of hybrid and rechargeable cars and light trucks in the U.S. last year as the industry remains under pressure to boost fuel efficiency. Sales of vehicles powered partially or entirely by electricity totaled at least 578,000 units, up more than 100,000 from 2012 and accounting for about 3.7 percent of all new autos sold in the nation, based on figures compiled by Bloomberg and estimates from Autodata Corp.

The U.S. set a goal in 2011 of doubling Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. That figure isn’t equivalent to window sticker-mileage labels intended to show actual fuel economy for new cars and trucks.

Price Reduction

The window-sticker average for all new autos sold in the U.S. last year rose 1 mpg to an all-time high of 24.8 mpg, based on data compiled by University of Michigan researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle. On a U.S. CAFE basis, the average was 30 mpg in 2013, also the best ever, Sivak said by e-mail yesterday.

Sales of the Leaf, which arrived in late 2010, were aided by a price reduction in early 2013 and the start of production of the car and its lithium-ion batteries at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee, plant. While California is the car’s biggest market, demand in Georgia and other parts of the South have lifted sales in the past four months, Fred Diaz, Nissan’s U.S. senior vice president, said in an interview last week.

“They have found the sweet zone for price and demand to at least maintain the current volume, but I don’t know what it will take for them to get it up to 50,000 a year,” Karl Brauer, an analyst for auto researcher Kelley Blue Book, said in a phone interview. “We’re still in the early days of the electric-car market, and when you’re at the beginning, you’ve got to learn and make adjustments. That’s what Nissan’s been doing.”

Electric Drive

Toyota Motor Corp., led by its Prius hybrid line, was the top U.S. seller of electric-drive autos, delivering 344,892 last year. Ford Motor Co.’s sales of hybrids, plug-ins and battery- only autos jumped 146 percent to 87,776, while General Motors Co.’s line fell 15 percent to 48,724 in 2013.

Hyundai Motor Co. with only a single hybrid model, a version of the Sonata sedan, sold more than 22,500 units last year, surpassing 20,616 deliveries for Honda Motor Co., which has eight electric-drive autos.

Nissan rose 0.5 percent to 940 yen at 9:53 a.m. in Tokyo trading. The shares have gained 11 percent in the past 12 months. Nissan’s North American unit is based in Franklin, Tennessee.

--Editors: James Callan, Ben Livesey