In hopes of boosting the sales of the Leaf electric car, Nissan Motor Co. plans to release a budget variant in 2013. Two sources said that the entry trim level would be slotted lower than the two higher-specification grades presently available. The lower-cost variant will be included as part of its facelift for the 2013 lineup.
Production of the 2013 Leaf will start this December at its Smyrna, Tenn. plant. It’s scheduled to arrive at U.S. showrooms before March. Nissan is focused on turning around the sluggish Leaf sales so it is working to reduce costs and make it more affordable. Through September, Nissan was able to sell 5,212 Leafs in the U.S. This is lower than the 7,199 units sold during the same period the previous year.
This is much lower than what Nissan expected in its fiscal year of having annual sales of 20,000 units. On the other hand, hybrid models -- the Chevrolet Volt and the Toyota Prius Plug-in -- are outselling the Leaf.
The backup gasoline engines of these hybrids take over when the electric charge is all used up. Pricing is an issue. The Leaf, which started selling in December 2010 as a low-volume import from Japan, has a price tag of $36,050 (which includes shipping costs).
It qualifies for a $7,500 U.S. tax credit. It has a base price that’s lower than the Volt’s but higher than that of the Prius Plug-in. It has yet to be announced what the price of this new base trim level is.
For the last couple of years, Nissan has said that it hopes to reduce costs by transferring Leaf production to Tennessee from its Japanese plant. By making the switch, the Leaf will avoid the high expense of Japanese exports as the result of the strong yen.