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USA: Nissan exec: Automaker ‘unlikely’ to double U.S. Leaf sales in ’12

New York — Nissan Motor Co. said Thursday that an executive misspoke when he suggested the company was not likely to double sales of its all-electric Leaf in 2012.

Brian Carolin, senior vice president for sales and marketing for Nissan North America, insisted that the Japanese automaker will hit 20,000 Leaf sales in the U.S. for 2012.

Carolin’s comments came despite the fact the company has sold fewer than 1,800 in the first three months of the year.

“Our target has not changed. Our plan is to double sales this year to 20,000 — so there’s been no change,” Carolin said, noting that he is responsible for Leaf sales and repeating for emphasis that the “target has not changed.”

Earlier in the day, Brendan Jones, director of Nissan North America Leaf marketing and sales strategy, said it was unlikely the company will sell about 20,000 Leafs in 2012.

“In 2012, I doubt it,” Jones said in an interview Thursday on the sidelines of the New York International Auto Show. “It’s unlikely.”

A company spokesman, David Reuter, later said that Jones had misspoken.

Nissan has sold just 1,733 Leafs in the first three months of this year. The Japanese automaker sold 9,679 all-electric Leafs in 2011.

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said this week at the New York auto show that the company would double sales of the Leaf in 2012 to about 20,000. “We’re not worried about it,” Ghosn said Wednesday. “I feel very good about this objective.”

Jones had suggested Ghosn wasn’t referring to doubling sales in calendar year 2012, but was referring to the Japanese automaker’s fiscal year. “He said the calendar year, but the reality is he’s talking about our fiscal year,” Jones said.

Nissan’s fiscal year runs April 1 through March 31. Nissan sold 11,000 Leafs in the U.S. during its fiscal year.

Ghosn said he expected Nissan to sell about 600 to 700 Leafs a month as long as the vehicle is exported from Japan to the U.S. Nissan plans to launch U.S. production in December at its new plant in Smyrna, Tenn.; the company received a $1.4 billion low-cost federal government loan to build the Leaf in the United States.

Carolin said Leaf will ramp up this year, but couldn’t give a precise monthly forecast for Leaf sales for the rest of the year.

Carolin said Nissan has the capacity to build 50,000 Leafs in Japan annually – and he said he has “confirmed” that the U.S. will receive enough vehicles in 2012 to meet the 20,000 target.

The Smyrna plant will have the capacity to build up to 150,000 Leafs annually, but Nissan will slowly ramp up production and it’s not clear when the plant might be at full production.

Ghosn said Nissan will “more than double” sales of the Leaf globally. The company has sold more than 27,000 Leafs worldwide.

The 2013 Leaf models will come in three trim levels — up from the current two — and have fancier interiors, leather seats and more efficient heating systems.



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