People Are Buying Nissan LEAFs Because Their Neighbor Has One

More than 2,200 LEAFs were sold in June, which was a 315 percent increase from June 2012. However, the electric vehicle still represents a relatively small number for Nissan. Its best seller - the Altima - sold nearly 27,000 in the same month. Credit: Nissan

More than 2,200 LEAFs were sold in June, which was a 315 percent increase from June 2012. However, the electric vehicle still represents a relatively small number for Nissan. Its best seller – the Altima – sold nearly 27,000 in the same month. Credit: Nissan

After several lackluster years, Nissan North America has sold more of its electric cars in six months than it did all of last year. More than 9,800 LEAFs were sold, surpassing 2012 figures.It helps that Nissan stopped charging so much for the battery-powered cars. A stripped-down version without extras like navigation is now offered for a $199 a month lease. Company officials say moving production of the vehicles from Japan to the Smyrna plant also saved some money on shipping costs and unfavorable exchange rates.

Nissan also points to what it calls “organic sales growth.” LEAF marketing director Erik Gottfried says new owners become evangelists, talking up the benefits of going all-electric to their neighbors.

“As a result, we see this organic growth where someone on the same road gets one and then someone at their church gets one and it goes down the road. A lot of LEAFs – we’re hearing from our dealers – are based on referrals from other LEAF owners.”

The Japanese automaker began selling the LEAF in targeted markets in places expected to embrace the car – San Francisco, Seattle and the Nashville area (home to the North American headquarters). In recent months, demand in cities like Atlanta and St. Louis has picked up. Nissan marketing officials say they’re not sure why, but they’ll take it.

All told, the supply of LEAFs is running short at current production levels.

“We really need to consider how to get more cars out of Smyrna,” says Fred Diaz, Nissan Americas vice president of sales and marketing.

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