Nissan LEAF — Threatened Or Buoyed By Tesla Model 3?

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Nissan is like a fast runner with a gold medal in hand but Usain Bolt on its tail. It has been able to say for a long time that it offers the world’s top-selling electric car (in history), but 400,000 or so reservations for the Tesla Model 3 put that title into threat.

That said, recent comments from Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn are poignant, positive, and bring to light a point that I think we should all be considering more frequently. Quoting from The Quebec Times (via EV Annex), these are the lines that stimulated this article: “I have to pull my hat off to Elon Musk, who is a great salesman,” said Ghosn. “He is a very good person who sells very well the vision of his company. Good for him. We are not at all jealous — on the contrary, I consider that the more Tesla advances, the more Tesla develops, the more it helps us. No one denies that we are the biggest players in the field. In a way it helps us to market this technology and make it more desirable.”

Indeed. The Nissan LEAF may lose its title, but it is the reigning champion and growing awareness of Tesla & demand for Tesla’s vehicles also brings awareness to electric cars on the whole, and when you start to learn about electric cars, you quickly learn about the Nissan LEAF and Nissan’s long leadership in this space. Some people don’t like Nissan’s offerings, but that’s the case for any product or company (including the Tesla Model 3 and Tesla). It would be disingenuous to deny that the Nissan LEAF is the top car choice for many buyers. It is a great car that many drivers cherish and appreciate on a daily basis.

LEAF sales keep going strong despite the Chevy Bolt’s arrival and Tesla Model 3 production starting today. In fact, as Carlos Ghosn’s comments hint, LEAF sales are probably up in part due to Tesla’s great branding and growing consumer fascination with its products. Many people have been pulled into the EV world by Tesla, found out about the LEAF, and taken one home.

Many happy LEAF drivers want their next car to be a LEAF, but there are also others who are inspired by Nissan’s EV leadership and plan to get a LEAF. Nissan may not have the 100% EV passion Tesla has due to its legacy business, but it has been #1 in several important categories of the EV industry. When you consider the inherent challenge Nissan is facing in this transition, the leadership starts to look much more impressive.

Survey results from our new EV report. Responses came from over 2,000 EV drivers across 26 European countries, 49 of 50 US states, and 9 Canadian provinces. Responses were segmented according to region — North America vs Europe — and type of electric car — plug-in hybrid vs Tesla vs non-Tesla fully electric car.

The next-gen LEAF, of course, is stepping up its technology, including semi-autonomous driving features and battery capacity/range. The model may well lose the gold medal to an endorphin-bursting Model 3, but its total sales will still likely get a boost from increased electric car awareness and enthusiasm.

One of our readers, after years of wanting an electric car, recently decided the Chevy Bolt was the car that should open the door to his e-mobility future. It wasn’t the Tesla Model 3. Many buyers will find out about electric cars because of Tesla, but then will decide to bring a Bolt, an i-MiEV, an i3, or a LEAF home to their garage. The Nissan LEAF is still landing thousands and thousands of sales because it is a compelling electric offering to many buyers. I’m a Tesla lover, but I’m also a LEAF lover and think it is still one of the smartest buys around.

The article title in The Quebec Times said Ghosn saw Tesla as an “ally.” Indeed, this game is more about a competition between electric cars and gasmobiles. Some players may get more of the fame and glory, but each member of the team is supporting the others to move the ball forward and close out the era of burning stuff for energy. This is game is part of an even broader tournament that will decide the fate of human society (and the survival of many species).

Ghosn has the right idea. Many Tesla fans and CleanTechnica readers have this same point of view. But I wish more Tesla fans would come into the topic with the mindset Ghosn displayed in the quotes above.

In any case, I expect the Tesla Model 3’s rollout over the coming year will mean that some consumers will choose a Model 3 who would have chosen a Nissan LEAF if it was available in a non-Tesla vacuum, but I assume many other buyers will find out about electric cars because of enthusiasm for Tesla and then decide to get a Nissan LEAF. So, let’s give a thanks to Nissan for being in position to knock in some balls Tesla sends its way.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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