Nissan’s Quarter-Millionth Leaf Means It’s The Best-Selling Plug-in Car In History

There are now more than 252,000 Nissan Leafs on the road worldwide.

The all-electric hatchback began life with just 50 sales in December 2010 and has since become the world’s best-selling EV in terms of cumulative sales – and by extension it’s the pinnacle electrified product for the Renault-Nissan Alliance.

Aided by availability in more global markets than the Chevy Volt and Opel/Vauxhall variants which have seen 134,500 sold, the Leaf has long-since surpassed that car which was first released the same month and year.

First-generation Volt.

First-generation Volt.

And, helped by more time on the market than the second-highest selling Tesla Model S launched June 2012 and with 158,000 sales, the Leaf stands above – although Tesla’s achievement is impressive especially given its 2-4-times higher price.

While we’re making note, the Leaf also eclipses the fourth-place plug-in vehicle, Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, which even without the North America market has around 116,500 sales since January 2013.

These are the only plug-in electrified vehicles so far with over 100,000 sales, thus the Leaf’s quarter million makes it a kind of big fish in a small pond.

Mass Market Solution

The front-wheel-drive-only Leaf was introduced amid bullish statements by Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn who projected EVs could comprise 10 percent of the market as soon as 2020.

It was intended with consumer subsidies to be mass-appealing, though the styling was influenced by focus groups asking Nissan to make it look funky and and stand-outish as a green car extraordinaire.

Nissan's marketing focused on an environmental angle for a while early on. It later changed tact to low cost of operation. A majority of people lease them.

Nissan’s marketing focused on an environmental angle for a while early on. It later changed tact to low cost of operation. A majority of people lease them.

Initial driving range on the U.S. EPA cycle was 73 miles; in 2013 a detuning of torque by 20 pounds-feet and other efficiencies squeaked out another 11 miles from its 24 kWh battery, and in 2016 a 30-kWh 107-mile version came out.

Nissan has since made 30-kWh the standard for the three-trim-level line as a new as-yet un-revealed model waits in the wings for next model year.

Sales Progress

Global sales started OK in the first full year of 2011, with 22,094 units and inched upwards in 2012 to 26,973.

In 2013, they jumped to 47,716, and peaked in 2014 at 61,507. In 2015 sales fell to 43,651, and – encouragingly – in 2016 a partial count is about 50,000 factoring most major markets.

The EV sold its first 100,000 globally in January 2014. It passed 150,000 in December 2014, and 200,000 in December 2015 and rather consistently it has just crossed 250,000 in early January.


For its maker, the Leaf represents the lion’s share of sales for all-electric vehicles. The Nissan brand has sold just 275,000 EVs, meaning the Leaf accounts for 91.6 percent. For the Renault-Nissan Alliance, and its nearly 390,000 sales as of December 2016, the Leaf constitutes almost 65 percent of the sales.

SEE ALSO: Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf Celebrate Their Sixth-Year Anniversary

Top markets for the little EV that could are the U.S. with 103,597 as of Dec. 2016, Japan with 70,346 as of Oct. 2016, and Europe with around 66,000 through Nov. 2016.

Norway has all by itself purchased 19,407 Leafs through Dec. 2016 and – counting used imports – there are 27,500 Leafs on the roadways of Norway.

In the UK, Nissan sold about 15,000 units through Sept. 2016, and Canada has accounted for 4,573 through Dec. 2016.

China has spoken for more than 3,500 of locally made versions called the Dongfeng Nissan Venucia e30 or Venucia Morning Wind, and Australia has taken around 1,000.

Time for a Refresh

The Leaf has been milked for a good seven-year run and given its replacement may not get here until the 2018 model year, it will have lived through much of this decade.

A 200-plus mile range version is expected, and what is taking Nissan so long to preview it is unknown. The Renault Nissan Alliance has already revealed battery updates to the now-longer-range Renault Kangoo Z.E. and Renault ZOE which were introduced after the Leaf.

2017 Bolt EV.

2017 Bolt EV.

Nissan has said the wait however may be worth it. The new car may borrow design language from the IDS concept revealed last year in Japan, and be more mainstream overall.

News of a 250-mile range battery in a test mule along with other teasers of more than double the range have gone out for a couple years now, and Ghosn has said the Leaf will be competitive with the Chevy Bolt.

That EV, with 238 miles, went on sale in Oregon and California last month, Tesla’s “$35,000” Model 3 is also pending, and several other 200-mile EVs are also due over the next couple years.

Ghosn said last week the new Leaf will also feature ProPilot technology, “enabling autonomous drive functionality for single-lane highway driving.”

Nissan IDS Concept with 60-kWh battery.

Nissan IDS Concept with 60-kWh battery.

When it will be released is not clear. Some have speculated the Tokyo auto show, but others have said it could be sooner.

We shall see, and meanwhile it will have a nice lead on sales.

No doubt the company will want to keep that going for the life of the second generation too – which if it is kept in circulation just as long as gen one could mean until 2025.

Thanks to Mario R. Duran for help with data.

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