When Nissan launched its LEAF in 2011, it was the first mass-produced, all-electric vehicle. Although sales originally suffered, Nissan surveyed LEAF owners in late-2012 and ultimately decided to cut the price by a massive $6,400. [Editor’s note: the price of the LEAF was cut after starting production in the US, and CEO Carlos Ghosn said that was what drove the cost down.] In response, sales of the LEAF skyrocketed in 2013.
Hoping to continue its success by responding to the market, Nissan recently surveyed Sacramento-area Tesla Model S owners to see what it is they love about their electric sedans. During the in-person interview conducted by a Nissan representative, owners were asked detailed questions about how they used their cars and what features they enjoyed or were lacking. Nissan was clearly looking into needed range and recharging capability, and features that appealed to luxury drivers.
While leasing options have made the Model S more affordable, it’s hard to imagine that people who can afford buying a Tesla would be interested in a Nissan LEAF. The two just don’t compare on range, power, size, or cost. So why is Nissan surveying Tesla owners?
Well Nissan may be collecting the information to improve the LEAF for better-paid potential buyers. In January of this year, Nissan contacted LEAF owners in the U.S. to ask them their thoughts about future LEAF models. Part of the January survey focused on a hypothetical 150-mile EPA-rated LEAF, presumably to gauge interest in a longer-range version of the popular electric hatchback. Nissan’s interest in the needed range and recharging capability of Tesla models would certainly be consistent with a future proposal to increase the range of the LEAF.
The survey may also be further evidence that Nissan will release the Infiniti LE Concept debuted at the New York Auto Show in 2012 as promised. Showcasing a more powerful electric motor than the LEAF and wireless inductive charging, the LE concept was a hit. But the car was put on hold so that Nissan would have time to keep up with the latest EV technology.
“There are some interesting advances in electric technology we hadn’t anticipated when we showed the LE, which, by delaying a bit, we can incorporate into the car,” said Andy Palmer, Nissan executive vice-president in July 2013.
One such advance is in better lithium-ion battery packs. When it debuted, the LE concept was based on Nissan’s existing LEAF electric car technology, including its lithium-ion battery pack. But the LEAF’s battery technology has been updated with new battery chemistry and cell construction. By delaying the production of the Infiniti LE Sedan, Nissan has had time to give it a superior battery pack.
Right now we can only guess why Nissan is conducting these surveys. Unfortunately, we won’t know whether they plan to improve the LEAF, release a luxury EV, or do something else amazing until it is announced. But with new EV players like BMW on the market, it makes sense for Nissan to want to remain competitive.