Electric car fever spurs Nissan to ramp up production

Stung by suggestions that it is falling behind schedule for the delivery of its state-of-the-art Leaf electric vehicle, Nissan Motor Co. has announced that it is ramping up production and is on course with its plan to build 10,000 cars by the end of March.

The Leaf was only released domestically in December but demand to date - in Japan as well as overseas - has caught the industry by surprise.

To date, Nissan has produced around 1,000 units at its Oppama plant, south of Tokyo, but has received orders for 6,000 cars in Japan, a further 20,000 in the United States and yet more in the European market, spokesman Mitsuru Yonekawa told Relaxnews.

"We have built 1,000 units since December, but we will have to step up production to meet demand," he said. "We had an initial target of 10,000 cars by the end of the fiscal year, so we need to make another 9,000 in that time."

The fiscal year ends on March 31.

Yonekawa denied that there was a "shortage" of Leaf EVs but agreed that demand in the US market is unlikely to be sated until the early months of the new financial year.

Earlier this week, Toshiharu Sakai, Nissan senior vice president, told reporters during a visit to the Oppama facility that the company is meeting its targets.

"The issue lies in the output of batteries rather than auto bodies, but we have made various arrangements," he said. "We can achieve the target."

Undoubtedly mindful of the bad press Toyota Motor Corp. has suffered in recent years over faulty engineering in its models, Nissan has deliberately started the manufacturing process in "a cautious manner," Sakai said, "So we can offer highly qualified cars."

The company is still expecting to meet its target of 50,000 cars rolling off production lines by the end of fiscal 2011. Nissan also anticipates a major improvement in the supply situation as soon as the company's factories in Smyrna, Tennessee, and the northern England city of Sunderland start producing the cars in 2012.

The news that Nissan is accelerating production coincides with the announcement by Mazda Motor Corp. that it will begin domestic sales of its first electric vehicle in the spring of 2012 to meet growing demand for zero-emission cars.

In Japan, the Leaf is priced at Y3,764,250 (€34,069), although government incentives in this market bring that down to a starting price of Y2,984,250 (€27,009). The US list price is $32,780 (€23, 935) and consumers pay $25,280 (€18,460) after a rebate.

JR

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