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Nissan Warns U.S.-Built Leaf Could be Delayed

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The March earthquake and tsunami in Japan continues to take its toll on worldwide vehicle production. Today, we learned the natural disasters could affect the timetable for building Nissan’s electric Leaf here in the U.S., according to Ward’s Automotive.

Nissan’s Smyrna, Tenn., assembly plant, where the Altima, Maxima and Nissan’s SUVs are built, is undergoing retrofits that’ll let the car company build roughly 150,000 Leafs in America each year. The plant was scheduled to start full-scale production in late 2012, but now Nissan is trying to dampen those expectations. “The earthquake is putting [the Smyrna plant] in a very difficult situation, but we are not giving up yet. Is there potential to delay it? There may be. We’re assessing right now,” Hideaki Watanabe, Nissan’s vice president of zero-emissions vehicles, told Ward’s.

Until the U.S. plant goes online, Leaf production will be limited to a sole factory in Japan. That factory has the capacity to build 50,000 Leafs a year, which would be shared between U.S., Japanese and European buyers. For the U.S., Nissan had promised a nationwide rollout of the Leaf by 2012, but Watanabe now says a nationwide rollout will depend on consumer demand and dealer readiness.

Some car buyers who have reserved Leafs are aggravated by the wait, according to Ward’s. Some are reporting that the automaker has bumped them off the waiting list and asked them to reapply. Others complain that the expected-delivery date for their EV has fluctuated dramatically.  Watanabe admits communication with customers could be better. The automaker has reduced Leaf marketing to reduce expectations of availability.

Nissan expects to deliver about 6,000 to 7,000 Leaf cars to the U.S. by the end of summer. In May, deliveries for the EV increased dramatically, selling 1,142 Leafs, which is up nearly 100% over April sales. Despite the uptick, the automaker had hoped to deliver 20,000 Leafs to U.S. customers by summer’s end, but that was before the quake and tsunami hit Japan.

Nissan Warns of Leaf Production Delays in Smyrna (Ward’s)

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