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Nissan Leaf, Holden Volt: war of words over local EVs

An electric vehicle grand battle is looming as Holden and Nissan trade barbs over their green machines in Australia.

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Visiting Australia last week, Nissan global vice president Andy Palmer told CarAdvice the real acid test for full electric cars such as his company’s Nissan Leaf comes next year when production starts in the US and UK in addition to Japan.

However, Holden president Mike Devereux told CarAdvice that the Holden Volt, which has 87km of electric range and a back-up petrol generator to extend the range to 600km, has already won the fight.

“The debate over the configuration of the electric car is over. Over,” Devereux said.

“We have 60 per cent share of the electric car market. I think the adoption rate of pure electric vehicles in the US shows that range anxiety is still a big issue.”

The Leaf has a range of around 170km, but doesn’t have a petrol generator and can only be recharged by plugging in.

When asked about Volt outselling Leaf in the US, Palmer rolled his eyes and said: “Don’t read too much press.”

“Somehow or other we get compared month on month with the Volt in the United States. Volt sells in the United States and hardly anywhere else and Leaf sells all over the world,” Palmer said.

“For most of last year our monthly sales were ahead of Volt and a few months this year it has been behind, in the United States.”

“We have sold 45,000 Leafs globally, so it terms of overall sales the (pure) EV is way ahead.”

Palmer said that, in his opinion, the Volt isn’t even a proper electric vehicle.

“Volt is a plug-in hybrid, if you wanted to be kind it is a range extender,” he said.

“All of our emphasis is, does it have a tailpipe? If it has a tailpipe it is a hybrid, if it doesn’t then it is an electric car.”

The Volt will arrive in Australian showrooms this November with an asking price of $59,990. Nissan’s Leaf is already on sale here, costing $51,500.

Palmer admitted the Leaf had not sold as well as Nissan was expecting last year.

”We had a few problems, not least an earthquake, that’s for sure,” he said.

“We are limited on what we can make right now, we are limited to 40,000 cars a year and they are all made in Japan.”

Sourcing from Japan meant Nissan had a “yen issue”, which affected profitability.

“From September this year we start manufacturing in the United States and from February next year we start manufacturing in the United Kingdom,” he said.

“That does two things: it lifts up capacity but it also gets you out of a yen-based currency.”

Palmer said that once these two extra plants were up and running, the true potential of electric vehicles can be seen.

“The acid test of whether you can sell on mass, an electric car, comes next year frankly,” he said.

Sourcing from the US and UK would not bring the price per car down, but would allow Nissan to bring in additional grades at a lower price and broaden the appeal of the Leaf. The company is aiming to sell 150,000 of them next year.

While Devereux thinks range anxiety is a major blocker for many potential EV customers, Palmer said the data Nissan collects from all the Leafs on the road suggests people don’t need endless range.

“Most people buy the car as a second car and buy very high specification, but the car ends up getting used as a first car,” he said.

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The Nissan-Renault company has bold plans to sell 1.6 million EVs by 2016, banking on the ability to bring down the price of batteries with large production volumes.

It is planning to introduce a small Infiniti EV sedan, called the LE, as well as an all-electric delivery van called the NV and a new city car EV in the next two years.