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Cars Crouching tiger, hidden LEAF

Published on December 7th, 2015 | by Chris Dragon

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The 2016 LEAF Is Out! (Don’t Tell Anyone.)

December 7th, 2015 by  


Back in September, I got on Nissan’s mailing list to be the “first to know” when the 2016 LEAF was released. I also asked a local Nissan dealer to contact me when it was available. Neither one contacted me.

One would think that the biggest update to the LEAF in 5 years would warrant a media fanfare. Yet, so far, Nissan has kept the 2016 LEAF release pretty much a secret.

Crouching tiger, hidden LEAF

When the new LEAF with 107 miles of range was announced, I was super excited. I’ve wanted an EV for 12 years, and the 2016 LEAF finally had the range for most of our trips at a price I could afford. Over on mynissanleaf.com, an owner in my area said Fontana Nissan had been great with his LEAF purchase back in 2011, so I emailed Fontana asking when the 2016 might be available. Their response? A form letter asking me to come down for a test drive.

I tried again, being as clear as possible that I was only interested in the date the 2016 would be released to market. This time I got a voicemail asking me to come down for a test drive. I had progressed to voicemail! Hurray.

At the same time, I started getting spam mail advertising various Nissan cars*. I sent an angry response and said I would report every future email I got as spam. They removed me from the mailing list but never apologized or answered my question.

I tried calling instead of emailing and spoke to someone who said the 2016 wouldn’t go into production until “next year.” My own research at the time suggested that the 2016 had been in production for a few months and could be out as early as mid October. So, I was either being lied to in the hope that impatience would make me come buy a gasmobile, or they simply had no idea what they were talking about.

Okay, maybe Fontana had gone downhill since 2011. There must be other good Nissan EV dealers, right?

I went to the website of all the Nissan dealers within a reasonable distance to see which might be most EV friendly based on how prominent the LEAF was on their web page. I also checked plugshare.com to see if they had an EV charger that was maintained. I then ordered them from most-to-least LEAF friendly:

  • Ross Nissan:
    • They have a big LEAF ad high on the page: “100% electric, zero gas Nissan LEAF. Innovation for the planet. Innovation for all. Drive the diamond lane.”
    • L3 charger costs $9.90 but is reported as reliable.
    • Mayor of El Monte drives a LEAF and charges here.
  • AutoNation Nissan South Bay:
    • LEAF features in first of 5 ads.
    • Five L2 chargers available and one 44kW L3 charger that seems to be well maintained. L3 was free until late Sept 2014 when it converted to EVgo. A comment from Oct 9, 2014, says the owner of the dealership was “very bitter about chargers” and wanted to increase the L3 cost above $9.95. Yet, as of this year, the L3 is reported to be part of Nissan’s “no charge to charge” program. Either dealer owner changed his mind or Nissan corporate is exerting influence to keep this charger maintained and free.
  • Al Hambra:
    • LEAF on slide 5 of 10, “No charge to charge” ad on slide 6 of 10.
    • Only L2 chargers available but they’re free and there are 4 of them. They even allow non-LEAFs.
  • Carson Nissan:
    • LEAF ads in slots 10 & 11 of 13.
    • L3 charger reported down since Aug and dealer reported as especially unhelpful. Some report that it works if you hold the cable up by laying it over something. This charger requires a ChargePoint account to use but they are apparently not maintaining it. This is a common complaint with the ChargePoint network.
  • Metro Nissan of Montclaire:
    • “No charge to charge” ad 3 ads down.
    • Their L3 charger has been mostly or completely down for 9 months and now sounds like it won’t be back. At least L2 is free.
  • Duarte:
    • $150/mo LEAF lease mentioned over halfway through their list of 20 front-page ad slides.
    • Free charging at three L2 chargers.
  • Empire Nissan:
    • No mention of LEAF in 10 ads.
    • This is the only dealer in the San Bernardino area that still offers free L3 charging and seems to keep it operational.
  • Nissan of Downtown LA:
    • No ads or mention of LEAF on front page.
    • $5 L3 charging but handle has been broken for 3 years, making it tricky to unplug. Some comments suggest people have thought the broken handle meant it was down, but it works with some extra tricks. Others report there are often 1–2 cars waiting in line to charge here during the day which makes not fixing the handle and not installing another charger or two especially obnoxious.
  • Gardena Nissan:
    • Nothing about LEAF in ads.
    • Free charging at one L2 charger limited to one hour.
  • Fontana Nissan:
    • Nothing about LEAF in ads.
    • L3 charger has been down 4 months and still has no expected date of repair.

Only the top 2 in that list looked at all promising to me. Before I got a chance to call one of them, we happened to be near another dealer and I figured maybe I could get a straight answer if I went in in person. I asked my question and the guy said something like “Oh yeah, the new model with new body styling!” I just stared at him because there is no new styling for the 2016 LEAF.


Soon, he realized the car wasn’t out yet and suddenly he was trying to say there’s no real difference between each model year other than the year number and wouldn’t I like to look at the 2015 LEAF? No, I tell him, I need the 2016 because it’s got 25% more range and he’s like, oh sure, it has a little extra range, but so what! And besides, the 2016 won’t be out till sometime next year! This was the same story I got from Fontana.

Eventually, he goes to find the “LEAF expert” and ask if there’s a pre-order list. A few minutes later, the LEAF expert is supposedly “at lunch” (at 5 PM?) but will be back in half an hour. In the meantime, this guy wants to write our contact info on a form he’s brought over. I tell him I’ve already got a dealership calling me with marketing because I gave them my info so I’d prefer not to give it again. “We’ll just come back in half an hour….”

After I refuse a couple times (with some verbally-stiff support from my wife), he says something like he’s just trying to save me money (funny, since we’d been pretty clear we just wanted some info, not to save money buying a car). He finally crumples up the paper and walks off while somehow still trying to appear friendly. He never lost that air of fake friendliness, but the message was clear — if we weren’t going to lead to a commission, we weren’t worth his time.

We didn’t go back in half an hour.

At that point, I didn’t feel I could trust any answer I got and that any “2016 LEAF pre-order” list they offered to put me on would actually be a “spam me with gas-car ads” list. So, I didn’t bother to call the two dealers I’d researched. I figured I’d just watch news sites and hope Nissan corporate would email me with a release date as they’d promised.

In the end, I found a good deal on a used Tesla and stopped watching LEAF news for awhile.

Despite the shady salesmen, I still love the LEAF and want it to succeed. A couple days ago, I happened to check the news and was shocked to find the 2016 was out and nobody had contacted me. I also checked my spam box and there was nothing.

I revisited Fontana Nissan’s website. None of its ads mention the new LEAF. Fontana has two 2016s in stock but no one contacted me despite my calls and emails back in September. At the top of the LEAF-friendly list above, Ross Nissan has one 2016 LEAF with the 30 kWh battery size in stock, but its front-page ads don’t mention it. AutoNation Nissan has two in stock… and no mention on the front page.

It took some digging, but I finally found that the 2016 had started arriving at dealers in the last week of November and about 250 were shipped out before December. December is an important month where people feel in the buying/gift giving mood and plenty of holiday car sales encourage spending, so getting the 2016 out now is great timing. Not advertising it is not so great.

Okay, if dealers aren’t advertising the new LEAF, maybe Nissan corporate is pushing it on YouTube where all those hip, young, EV buyers hang out.

Behold, Nissan’s YouTube channel:

Nissan YouTube channel

The first bad sign: All you see is Altima without scrolling**.

The second bad sign: the LEAF category is at the very bottom of the page.

The third bad sign: the newest commercial visible in the LEAF category is 1 year old.

Where’s the series of exciting, all-new 2016 Nissan LEAF commercials?

If you scroll the LEAF category all the way to the right, then click View 30+ more, then scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, you’ll find one, lonely, new commercial:

That’s right, Nissan has exactly one commercial for the most exciting new LEAF model in 5 years. So it must be spamming this bad boy across the whole internet, right? Well, no… it has only 7,751 views after 4 weeks.

Compare that to the Altima commercial at the top of the page that has 1.4 million views after 4 weeks. Not only are they not paying to show their one new LEAF commercial — it has so few views that it appears dead last on its YouTube channel and isn’t even visible without scrolling all the way down, then all the way right, clicking, and scrolling all the way down again. It’s like a scavenger hunt!

Maybe they just haven’t started pushing the commercial yet? That would be crazy since this is a huge month for car sales, but maybe they have some reason to wait. In that case, one would expect prior LEAF ads to have lots of views after they were eventually paid to run.

Nope.

Average views of the first 10 LEAF commercials are around 20,000. Highest is 759,000. Next highest is 70,000. Even the 5-year-old commercials rarely have over 20,000. Nissan simply hasn’t paid to show all but one or two of its LEAF ads to much of anyone.

That one ad with 759,000 views is titled “World’s Cleanest Car.” Other than saying “world’s cleanest car” a few times, Nissan says nothing about the LEAF. It’s mostly a commercial for new dirt-shedding paint technology. Despite having 759,000 views, the audience wasn’t thrilled by it: it’s only got 431 thumbs up and 136 down. Nissan must have paid to get it so many views, and I have a feeling that was to show off the painting process more than the LEAF.

Compare that to “The Gas Station Takeover,” which I think is the most compelling LEAF commercial I’ve seen. It got 79 likes and 10 dislikes. That’s 4 times as many likes per dislike compared to the 759,000 ad. Yet this more-popular ad has a pitiful 12,500 views over 2 years.

OK, maybe it’s not fair to compare the LEAF to the 1.4-million-view Altima video because the Altima is one of Nissan’s top-selling models. So, let’s compare it to the 2016 TITAN XD, which is a new model of diesel truck released in January. Its release ad has 110,000 views — 5 times higher than the average LEAF ad.

Nissan clearly isn’t paying to actually get its LEAF ads in front of eyeballs.

Nissan likes to boast that it has more EV sales than any other company, but in the last year, Nissan and Tesla have swapped places in sales in the US, and possibly in Europe as well. In 2014 YTD, 25,000 LEAFS were sold in the US and almost 18,000 Teslas. In 2015 YTD, 23,000 Teslas were sold, compared to 15,900 LEAFs. This is despite the base Tesla costing over twice as much as the base LEAF.

Oh, the horror!

What Is Going On With Nissan?

I’ve always been a big fan of Nissan’s CEO, Carlos Ghosn. In 2007, when every other big auto maker had, at most, plans to produce a few thousand EVs strictly to comply with government mandates, Carlos committed $5 billion to develop the LEAF and put it into mass production.

BusinessWeek branded Ghosn as “crazy,” but crazy can be good when you’re trying to save the world.

Ghosn seemed seriously committed to the LEAF. He went so far as to pull the Nissan Versa from the market in order to leave the LEAF as Nissan’s only “C-segment” car offering. Just before the LEAF was released in December 2010, Carlos said he thought 500,000 LEAFS would be sold each year by 2013, and I think he believed it. Even when sales seemed slow, Nissan built out its production capacity to support 10 times more cars than were currently selling, and their plants all around the world were tooled up to produce Nissan’s star EV.

LEAF sales did not manifest as Ghosn hoped. It was thought that people had range anxiety, so Nissan added free L3 fast chargers to many dealerships and other city locations. Despite that, Ghosn saw only 22,610 LEAFs sold in 2013 instead of his half-a-million prediction. In fact, Nissan’s “free charge to charge” program may have backfired, as inconsiderate people have been found to hog free chargers in popular locations in order to slowly top up over 90% while those who seriously need the charge have to wait or look elsewhere.

These days, the Versa is back on the market and at least half the dealer quick chargers in my area have not been maintained. Tesla sales have surged past LEAF sales, and even the awesome new 2016 LEAF with 25% more range has had almost zero fanfare from Nissan.

It feels like Ghosn has given up the idea of an EV revolution. Sometimes, it seems that he’s actually trying to harm sales by announcing the 2016 months in advance, which served to stagnate sales of 2015 LEAFs. He’s also said a double-range LEAF is around the corner, which only encourages buyers to wait. This is the same CEO who brought Nissan back from bankruptcy in 1999. I have trouble imagining that he makes statements that can kill LEAF sales without considering the consequences.

Tesla has kept up and surpassed Nissan purely with word-of-mouth sales and by putting all profits back into scaling up production as fast as it can (we hope). Nissan remains the king of “all time” EV sales with what seems to be almost the same word of mouth strategy, but it’s falling behind in current sales. It has a great new product that could let Nissan pull ahead again if it only marketed it. The battery is expected to last longer and degrade slower with a range of 107 miles that is 4 times what the average person drives each day. It still doesn’t work well for long trips, but it doesn’t have to in order to be successful.

Maybe Nissan is just waiting until a good stock of 2016s are in place at dealers across the country before starting a media blitz. Given that December is a big month for car buying and the 5-year history of low ad views, I doubt it. Nissan only has a year left before the 200-mile-range Chevy Bolt comes out, so now is its last, best chance to sell the 2016 LEAF. As time goes on, Nissan will have to announce something to match the Bolt range or seriously drop the LEAF price to compete.

It turns out that Nissan has shown off an IDS concept car with over 200 miles of range and a suspected release date of the second quarter of 2017. That’s around 6 months later than the Bolt, so it should compete. There is no word on pricing, but since Nissan is moving to the same LG Chem battery technology as the Bolt, there’s nothing stopping the company from matching Chevy, unless Chevy has a secret contract with especially low prices that LG won’t offer to other EV makers. I suspect Nissan is waiting to see if the Bolt manifests on schedule and at the promised price before it responds with a competing product.

All this got me wondering: can LEAF prices be lowered? There’s been speculation that profit margins must be razor thin and that’s why the LEAF doesn’t get advertised or pushed by dealers. Yet Boulder Nissan dropped it price by $8,500 and increased sales from 15–20 per month to 150 per month. I can’t imagine it is losing money on so many cars, so the profit margin must be significantly higher than $8,500 per vehicle. From Black Friday to Dec 31st, Tynan’s Nissan has also cut the 2015 LEAF price, but by an even greater amount: $9,007

5 years ago, Carlos Ghosn seemed poised to use Nissan’s clout to drive an EV revolution faster than fledgling Tesla or any other big automaker. Today, Tesla has surged past LEAF sales while Nissan corporate doesn’t seem to care.

The LEAF is a great car with a high customer satisfaction rate. Its reliability even beats Tesla’s. 2016 LEAF sales should be record breaking, and could be, if they were marketed and if those $8,000 discounts were offered widely.

I’m hoping someone at Nissan will read this and realize the company needs a better direction.

Have friends at Nissan? Ask them to whisper in someone’s ear about offering discounts or running ads.

Can we pressure Nissan in some other way? Let us know in the comments.

Update: After publishing this, I got a 2016 LEAF announcement from Nissan corporate on 12/8 at 11:47am. I’d call it over 2 weeks late (the original signup said I would be the “first to know”) but better late than never. It would have been much better to email people saying the cars will be arriving in the next week or two and send a second email a couple weeks later as a reminder. I’d hate to have had this email appear now only to find my local dealer sold the one or two cars they got two weeks back.***


*Editor’s Note: I got the same after inquiring online about the Nissan LEAF, and after indicating at a visit to a local dealership that we were EV fanatics and might lease the LEAF (and were only interested in EVs)… and I still get them, after we leased a LEAF. It is quite disheartening to me, as someone who often writes about Nissan’s leadership in the EV space. –Zach

**Editor’s Note: This is the car I get pushed on me in Nissan spam the most. –Zach

***Editor’s Note: I’d also assume this was in response to this article, but we’re not sure about that. 
 
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About the Author

I grew up programming on an Apple IIe and now run a software company. Despite a hatred of family camping trips, I've always had a deep concern for the creatures we share this planet with. In respect of those creatures, I spent a number of years working at an environmental non-profit, but these days I just try to live with sustainability and encourage others to do the same. I've even come to tolerate camping trips!



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