Nissan Leaf’s Record-Setting Streak Breaks in January

Nissan’s 1,070 sales for its all-electric Leaf in January marked the first time in 23 months that the rising star hasn’t set some form of record.

Its sales are not better year-over-year, or month-over-month, or in any other qualified sense, and represent a decline from January 2014’s 1,252 sales and December 2014’s 3,102 sales.

Whether this is much to be concerned over is debatable however, as that 1,252 sales last year was itself a 50-percent decline from a strong December and February 2014’s 1,425 sales also were weak before the Leaf shot back up to 2,507 in March 2014.

Chevrolet had an even weaker month with 542 Volts sold.

Chevrolet also had a weak month with 542 Volts sold. This was the worst it’s done since August 2011.

So, a precedent has already been set for weak January and February Leaf sales.

For its part, Nissan did not mention cheap gas or other factors, but cited practical consumer accounting reasons for December 2014 sales that were three-times better at 3,102 Leafs sold.

“We saw a significant increase in demand in December from Nissan Leaf customers looking to take advantage of federal and state incentives at the end of the tax year, which pulled some sales ahead,” said Brendan Jones, director, Nissan Electric Vehicle Sales and Infrastructure. “We’re confident that EV sales will continue to rise over time due to increasing emission regulations and other reasons for purchase of EVs such as lower operating costs, reducing dependence on foreign energy sources, environmental concerns and a great driving experience.”

2016 Volt.

2016 Volt.

Of perhaps of greater concern for Nissan, observes analyst Alan Baum, are longer term issues.

Launched December 2010 as a 2011 model, the Leaf was refreshed and its price was cut in 2013 as domestic production came online in Tennessee as well.

Last month was the Leaf’s worst month since February 2013 when it sold 653 units and this was the same month Chevrolet revealed its 2016 Volt and Bolt EV concept.

The 50-mile range Volt actually gives close to 60-percent the 84-mile EV range of the Leaf – and then adds range with 41-mpg gasoline backup.

And the Bolt signals a commitment by GM to amp up its green car program.

Bolt EV Concept.

Bolt EV Concept.

Regarding Nissan, its EV has been the global best seller in the neighborhood of 160,000 sales. Its weak month in the U.S. did not let it beat the Volt’s cumulative U.S. total 73,899 units, but it’s just 507 units shy of tying and last month the Leaf exceeded the Volt’s 42 sales which itself was a worse decline of 41-percent year-over-year.

More significantly Nissan may not have a new Leaf on sale until early 2017. It has not said much officially on this except much more range – possible more than double to 200-plus miles – is in store.

The Bolt also is to be a 200-mile BEV, as is to be Tesla’s Model III whenever that is finally shown.

Toyota CH-R Concept could influence a sportier more efficient Prius.

Toyota CH-R Concept could influence a sportier more efficient Prius.

Baum suggested Nissan may need to revisit its marketing for the Leaf to keep excitement going while it endures months ahead when the 2016 Volt comes online during the second half of this year, and also as the new Toyota Prius Liftback is revealed later this year.

This strategy has worked for Tesla which in reality sells one model, the S, in a variety of trim levels. Tesla has kept the Model S feeling fresh and relevant and kept sales going with periodic headline-grabbing innovations including an innovative hybrid leasing program, Superchargers, Model P85D, auto pilot, and more.

Admittedly these are all dissimilar tech cars, but the pool of top alternative-energy vehicles is slim, and they are cross-shopped or at least cross-compared to one degree or another.

But keeping perspective here, January is only one month, and again, falling sales for the otherwise traditionally slow time period is not without precedent.

That Nissan is committed to electrification is not in question. What the latest downturn will mean along with more variables besides – including cheap gas and evolving technology – remains to be seen.