Nissan Sells 99,999th Leaf

Today Nissan announced the 99,999th global Leaf was purchased last week by Amy Eichenberger of Charlottesville, Va.

This reconfirms the Leaf as the global best-selling EV, having been launched in the U.S. in December 2010. Last year it experienced marked growth over a relatively flat sales year in 2012 following a price cut in January 2013, and U.S. assembly ramping up the same month.

Nissan’s U.S. sales are now well over 42,000 Leafs, which compares to the extended-range Chevy Volt’s over 55,000. On a global basis, General Motors has sold somewhere over 70,000 Volts and rebadged Volt variants.

Of course it’s safe to say the 100,000th Leaf was also sold, said Paige Presley, Nissan corporate communications specialist in a brief phone interview, but Nissan says that the 100k milestone car was not bought in the U.S., and it will release info on the overseas sale in a few hours.

(Update Jan. 20. 10 a.m. EST: Leaf #100,000 Sold in UK).

Meanwhile the story of the 99,999th Leaf made for an eye-catching headline, and the sale was a strong testimonial for Nissan to highlight.

As the story goes, Nissan made a conquest sale from a Mercedes-Benz customer who was not even in the market for a new car.

Eichenberger, a 47-year-old mother of two was reportedly just curious at first.

“As an architect, the style first got my attention, and I loved the concept of zero emissions,” said the project manager who oversees major capital investments for the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

She has driven Mercedes-Benz vehicles for the past 10 years and describes herself as “picky.” On top of her shopping priorities were safety, a “glide ride” and reliability, she said.

“I’d been told once I drove a Mercedes I’d never drive anything else again,” she told Nissan. “I don’t need fancy, but I do appreciate the solid feel and craftsmanship of a luxury vehicle, and I get that in the Leaf.”

But before making the decision, she did go and look at other cars.

“The general fuel economy out there is unimpressive and many of them felt tin-canny. I didn’t even want to look at anything in the 20 mpg range. I considered the VW Jetta TDI, Toyota Prius, Honda CRV and a couple of Subaru wagons, and I always came back to the Nissan Leaf. Everything else seemed stuck in the past,” she explained.

She bought the car from a dedicated EV salesman at Colonial Nissan, in Charlotesville.

“I have friends I like to visit in Richmond, which I can do in the Leaf with some planning, and in DC, which I’ll do in my son’s or boyfriend’s car,” said Eichenberger. “Leaf will meet my needs 98 percent of the time, and I didn’t want to let a little range anxiety prevent me from missing out on what I consider a much more progressive and forward-thinking vehicle than any of the alternatives.”

Her salesman, Chris Crowley, said the Leaf being all-electric takes more effort to sell, and the clientele has been morphing from early adapters to a broader base in recent months.

“Leaf buyers generally come in well educated about the vehicle, looking for even more information and wanting to see how it feels and drives,” he said. “We spend a lot of time talking about driving habits to make sure it meets their needs and reviewing how very much it’s like any other vehicle in its capabilities with the added benefit of no fuel bill. Folks like to be green, but you can talk to their pocket books as well.”

Crowley has been the dedicated EV salesperson for two years at his dealership, has sold nine Leafs, with three being in the last few weeks.

“Leaf sales have picked up because once we were selling to engineers who were fans of the car and knew exactly how it worked,” he said. “Now we’re selling to a much broader audience, and I think we’ve benefitted from a few folks who resolved to be greener in the new year.”

According to Erik Gottfried, Nissan’s director of EV Sales and Marketing, new markets are opening up across the country, and on top of advertising, the growth has been also by word of mouth.

“With Leaf, we see a high level of organic growth and viral sales where Leaf owners become our best evangelists and salespeople. With electric vehicles, many folks presume a 100 percent electric vehicle won’t meet their needs until they chat with a neighbor, co-worker or family friend who loves their Leaf and explain its practicality, and then it goes on their consideration list,” said Gottfried. “In fact, we’re seeing similar results with the geographic dispersion of sales. With sales high in Atlanta, we now see other Georgia markets such as Macon and Columbus picking up significant momentum, similar to Eugene, Ore., following on the success of Portland.”

When asked about how proactive Nissan is being with marketing and advertising, we noted also Chevrolet says it focuses Volt advertising in California and other targeted audiences.

Gottfried did not share Nissan’s advertising budget, but did reiterate its push toward nationwide market acceptance.

“We’re standing behind this car and will be marketing in 20 markets next month,” Gottfried said.