Redesign of Nissan Leaf to boost lagging sales

Posted on 13 Apr 2012

After poor sales in Europe, car-maker Nissan will redesign its Leaf electric vehicle model so that it suits market tastes in the region.

The makeover will take place at the automotive firm’s plant in Sunderland, which will assume control of the manufacture for the Nissan Leaf in Europe from the company’s site in Japan by 2013.

The division of the Leaf’s manufacture will result in regional development and modifications to the model, although the amount of creative control Sunderland will have has not been discussed in public.

There have been only 1,733 sales of the model throughout Europe so far in 2012, with many inside the company fearing that the low carbon vehicle will fall short of the 20,000 to 25,000 target Nissan set for the year.

Part of the blame has been placed on the car’s price, even with a £5,000 grant from the UK government that brings the price of the Nissan Leaf at £20,990.

The Japanese car firm has moved production in order to cut costs on the car. It hopes to save around a third of the costs in order to be able to lower prices in Europe, a market with negative growth predicted for 2012, but with growing electric vehicle infrastructure.

These reduced costs will come from a shorter distance between factory and retailers, overall logistics, lower import taxes, and currency exchange rates as the strength of the Japanese yen has negatively impacted on the country’s ability to export into distant marketplaces.

Nissan Europe’s vice president of engineering Colin Lawther has stated that, as well as tweaks being made to the exterior, the distance the car-owner can drive from one charge will be improved above the current 100 mile level. Power delivery will be refined for smoother acceleration.

Regional manufacturing for different markets will begin later this year with the beginning of production of the Leaf for the US market in Tennessee.

Production of batteries at Nissan’s Sunderland plant began a few months ago, and the only major component for the Leaf still expected to be imported from Japan is the electric motor. The firm is currently deciding whether to transfer its production to the UK too.

Nissan has said in the past that the low amount of electric vehicle charging points across Europe has hindered sales. However, the number of charging points in the UK is increasing.