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Nissan began yesterday to take reservations for the Nissan Leaf—the first mass-market all-electric car to hit the market since GM’s EV1 was canceled in 2003. A list of approximately 100,000 pre-registered interested buyers received an email, notifying them that the reservation website was ready to take orders. The reservations, which require a refundable $99 fee, puts prospective buyers first in line to buy or lease the Nissan Leaf, when firm orders begin in August.
Rollout begins in select markets in December 2010, with vehicles available in all major launch markets thereafter. That could mean mid-2011, depending on where you live. The Leaf is priced at $32,780 and will be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit. The Leaf will also be available for a 36-month lease, running $349 per month with an initial payment of $1,999.
Small Bumps in the Road
The first day of reservations was not without a number of logistical problems. Our sources tell us that many people on the list didn’t get the notification email or received the email later than expected. In addition, the system had problems processing American Express cards for the deposit.
The online registration process started with a survey, asking a number of questions about personal driving patterns and parking location—in order to determine if a customer is well-suited to an electric car with approximately 100 miles of range. In addition, registrants were asked to choose either the base SV trim level—or the higher SL package that includes a rear-view monitor, solar spoiler panel, fog lights and automatic on-off headlamps. Five color choices—blue, black, white, silver and red—were also offered.
At HybridCars.com, we were unsuccessful in placing our reservation. After completing a survey and entering our credit card information, the link to the final confirmation screen was incorrectly redirected to a video about the ordering process. We placed a phone call to the toll-free dedicated Leaf support line for assistance. After waiting 45 minutes to speak with a representative, he informed us that many customers were experiencing this glitch. The agent took our number and said that we would get a call back within 48 hours—or “possibly within 7 to 10 days”—to confirm that the registration system was fixed and ready.
The registration logjam on the website was not unexpected—considering the amount of anticipation from green car fans about the arrival of fully capable electric car from a major global automaker. The early adopters are considered the most patient and amenable of potential customers. Customer demand for the Nissan Leaf is expected to far exceed availability during the first year or two. Global production in the first year is set at 50,000 units.
Rush to Judgment
A mad rush of early buyers does not confirm the long-term viability of the Nissan Leaf and other electric cars—at least, according to a number of critics. In February, Forbes Magazine’s Jerry Flint called the Leaf “the most daring gamble in the automobile world.” He said that some people always will be attracted to the novelty of the car, but “the Leaf is more likely to be a sales failure than a sales success.” And John McElroy, producer of “Autoline” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit, also called the Leaf a bold gamble. “Unless EVs really catch on with consumers,” he writes in Ward’s Auto, it “may go down as the most expensive public-relations boondoggle this industry has ever seen.”
Just 24 hours after Leaf reservations began, it’s way too early to tell the story—one way or the other. But one thing is clear: consumer demand for a vehicle that breaks our dependence on petroleum, gas pumps, and carbon emissions is on the rise.