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Nissan Leaf to struggle on despite minister’s remarks

Safe for now: Nissan’s all-electric Leaf will live to see another day, but the car-maker’s Australian MD is frustrated at lack of government support.

No government incentives undermine Leaf’s Oz future, but Nissan isn’t giving up

Nissan logo22 Apr 2015

NISSAN has again lashed out at “frustrating” and “disappointing” comments made by the federal industry and science minister, Ian Macfarlane, on the viability of electric vehicles, adding that it will persevere with the Leaf despite a lack of support from the government.

Speaking at the announcement of increased contracts for a range of aluminium parts made by Nissan Casting Australia Plant (NCAP) in Melbourne this week, Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery warned that statements such as the one the federal minister made have long-term consequences and should not be made lightly.

Mr Emery was responding to Mr Macfarlane’s remarks at the local media launch of the hydrogen-powered Hyundai ix35 fuel-cell vehicle on April 1 in Sydney, where he labelled EVs such as the Leaf as “an idea, not a solution” to personal transport needs.

Asked if the Leaf is dead in Australia, Mr Emery said that Mr Macfarlane “seems to think so”, and added: “No I’d like it not to be. We want to hang in there with Leaf as long as we can.

“I am disappointed with the government’s attitude,” he said. “I think that was ill-informed, and maybe shooting from the hip. We were hoping for a more forward-thinking government position on low-emission and zero-emission vehicles.”

While Australian Leaf sales are down by 26.2 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with last year, the battery-powered Nissan remains the world’s best-selling EV with more than 100,000 cars delivered since 2011, for a 45 per cent share of the global EV market.

Mr Emery said he believes EVs will eventually become mainstream propositions, and that buyers will look to Nissan as pioneers.

“We want to stick with the Leaf, because we think electric cars will be a viable option in the mainstream in time at some point in time. I don’t know whether it is five years from now or 10 years from now.

“But when it does happen, I’d like people to say, ‘Nissan have been at that for 15 years and they obviously know what they are doing.’ I think we have that position now and I’d be really loathe to walk away from it.

“Leaf is a success globally, so from that perspective, whether we sell 300 Leafs in Australia or not is not going to hurt this (the NCAP export program) business.”

Using the occasion to once again call for greater governmental incentives to help increase the appeal of EVs in Australia, Mr Emery warned that if action was not taken, the Leaf’s position in this country would eventually become untenable.

“Ultimately there does need to be either some financial support through taxation or some infrastructure support from various levels of government to make electric cars viable for all people, and to make it a mainstream decision,” Mr Emery said.

“And that’s what disappointed me the most… I’m a little bit frustrated on a number of fronts on various levels of government about their lack of understanding of this business. I’ve been in it for 30 years and my dad was in it before me so I’m second generation, and it’s a really misunderstood business, and I find it really frustrating that governments and ministers in isolation make off-the-cuff statements, that have significant impact on our business.

“So on one hand, we continue to talk to Japan and Nissan Motor Company Limited about future model line-ups five and 10 years from now, and governments make short-term six-month decisions, and make it very difficult for us to make those long-term decisions.

Mr Emery highlighted the Leaf’s loyal customer base, and added that it is not a profitable model for the Japanese car-maker in Australia.

“Certainly Nissan Australia would like to keep banging away with Leaf, even though we don’t make any money – in fact we even lose money – with the car in Australia. There are some loyal customers who love it, who have bought into the technology and understand what it is about.

“We’ll hang on as long as we can, but if that statement by MacFarlane was a whole-of-government-view on electric cars, that they’re not viable, then that will go into the mix with our decision making.”

Ironically, NCAP managing director Peter Jones said the mechanical components his company makes for the Leaf in Australia for export are the plant’s “jewel in the crown”.

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