West Coast drivers accelerate Leaf EV adoption

Those shrinking sticker prices on the Nissan Leaf appear to be having the intended effect – on the West Coast, especially.

You’ll recall that the all-electric Leaf first started making its way into U.S. markets in December 2010, and U.S. sales fell well short of initial expectations for both 2011 and 2012, adding up to just under 20,000 cars.

But less than five months into 2013 Nissansays buyers have driven more than 5,000 new Leafs off lots, pushing the car to over 25,000 lifetime sales here. Global Leaf sales are up to 62,000, Honda added, making it the “world’s best-selling electric vehicle,” which sounds more grandiose than it is, given how puny the EV market is at this point. But still.

image via Nissan

Sales might get another bump now, too, with word from the government that the Leaf’s range is about 15 percent better than it used to be, according to Autobloggreen. The EPA said the car can go 75 miles on a 90 percent charge, up from 73 miles on a 100 percent charge.

“Nissan Leaf sales have risen steadily since the vehicle’s launch and have grown tremendously compared to the previous year with sales jumping several-fold in LEAF’s traditionally high-performing markets such as San Francisco – where Leaf was the top-selling vehicle for the Nissan brand in April – Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and San Diego,” Nissan USA said in a statement.

That statement, by the way, came out of Nashville, Tenn., and the symbolism there is important: Nissan began commercial production of the Leaf in Smyrna, Tenn., earlier this year, in part thanks to a $1.4 billion U.S. Department of Energy loan that helped finance assembly plant upgrades and construction of a battery manufacturing plant.

Nissan figured that getting production stateside would help sales by allowing some costs savings, and the new pricing for the 2013 Leaf can drive the tab down to as low as $18,800 after federal and state tax credits.

Another factor Nissan pointed to in its sales trends is infrastructure. This has always been a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg question – do sales bring infrastructure or will infrastructure inspire sales – but it happens that the places where the Leaf is selling best are places where there are lots of charging stations.

“We already knew that areas with a higher concentration of EVs would require more charging stations, but trends show that the reverse is also true—a more robust charging infrastructure generates greater interest in EVs and stimulates more EV driving among EV owners,” said Brendan Jones, Nissan’s director of EV infrastructure strategy and deployment.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling