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EV growth slow, but Nissan Oz re-commits to Leaf

Pioneer: The Leaf has been a modest seller, but Nissan is backing its EV pioneer with or without government help.

We won’t “whinge”, but EV incentives would be ideal: Nissan Australia CEO

21 Aug 2013

THE local chief of electric vehicle leader Nissan says any brand looking to bring an alternate fuel vehicle to Australia will face significant challenges while government incentives stay off the table.

Nissan Australia managing director and chief executive Bill Peffer told GoAuto the company had faced a challenging environment since launching the groundbreaking Leaf EV locally last July, with sales yet to rise above niche levels despite two significant price cuts in the interim.

“The issue is the level of sustainable support from the government and then how quickly we can build the infrastructure, and whose responsibility it is to build the infrastructure,” Mr Peffer said.

“It’s been difficult for mature markets to bring in leading product without that support.

“Working in the (United) States on Leaf before coming here, it was a very different proposition in terms of how that market was subsidised and seeded to accept that technology.” Other developed markets such as the US, from where Mr Peffer hails, offer significant incentives to EV buyers. The US government, for instance, offers a $7500 federal tax credit, while the State of California offers additional grants and special EV freeway lanes.

12 center imageLeft: Nissan Australia CEO and managing director William Peffer.Several major European markets such as Germany, France and Britain offer breaks from road and/or congestion taxes. Aside from a higher luxury car tax threshold - which doesn’t apply to the $39,990 Leaf anyhow - Australia offers no such policies.

It may be a battle, but being an EV pioneer has many positives, says Mr Peffer. Mitsubishi beat Nissan to the punch with its i-MiEV when it launched here in late 2011, but has since signalled its intention to withdraw that car (with the exception of special orders) and wait for the 2014 plug-in PHEV Outlander.

This means the Leaf is Australia’s sole pure EV, although it is regularly grouped together with the plug-in hybrid Holden Volt.

“Virtually everything we’ve done, we’ve done here ourselves, we’ve supported it, so I think we’re learning some lessons in terms of what’s required to be relevant in the space,” said Mr Peffer.

“Every brand that comes to market with an alternate fuel vehicle like an EV is going to face the same challenge as us unless the government supports some degree of infrastructure.

“We don’t make it a point to whinge and complain about policy, we react to the market conditions we’re subjected to. But would I like government support in EV technology to help it grow? Absolutely yes.” The sentiments echo those of the local chief of Nissan’s Global Alliance partner Renault, which alongside Nissan has been an early adopter of EV technology with (now cancelled for Australia) Fluence ZE battery-swap car, plus the Zoe and Kangoo ZE overseas.

When asked by GoAuto last month when we might see the Zoe light-sized EV here, Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar didn’t paint a bright picture.

“I wish I could tell you that there was an update on Zoe brought on because one of the more proactive political parties in Australia has decided to follow the rest of the developed and developing world to provide incentives for EVs,” he said.

“At the moment, there is just nothing in Australia.” Still, the price cuts on the Leaf, which have seen the cost drop from $51,500 last July to $39,990 drive-away in May, have had an early impact.

“Our sales rate after that price adjustment has doubled,” said Mr Peffer.

“Now, we’re selling the car in dozens of quantity a month, not hundreds, (but) we’ve learned a lot since introduction in terms of infrastructure, government support and technology.

“We’ve committed to it, we have a group of dealers that retail it, we’ve increased that number by 10 recently and the total exceeds 20, and we’ve committed to use that car to fortify our commitment to zero-emissions technology.

“We’re in that for the long haul as well. I do see growth if you watch what’s happened in other mature markets like the US, and we do see opportunity in zero emissions and alternate powertrains.” According to industry figures, 167 EVs have found homes in Australia this year, 111 of which have gone to non-private buyers (small fleets). Leaf sales gave climbed 74.5 per cent to 89 units.

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