Nissan Leaf sales take a dive through August

2012 Nissan Leaf redThe Nissan Leaf electric hatchback has been having a tough time finding buyers, despite the promise of zero emission motoring. Leaf sales have been on the decline in 2012, right through the end of August.

Nissan has delivered just 4,228 Leafs in 2012, which is a 31.5 percent decrease from 2011. In August, just 685 Leafs were sold, a 50 percent decrease from the previous year.

Nissan hopes to sell 20,000 of the electric vehicles in the United States in 2012, but that seems increasingly unlikely. To meet that goal, the company would have to sell 4,000 cars per month through September, October, November, and December.

In comparison, sales of General Motors plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt have skyrocketed. Chevy sold 2,831 Volts in August, and has shifted 13,497 cars so far this year.

Toyota moved 21,111 Priuses in August 2012, compared to 9,491 in August 2011. However, that number includes multiple models (Prius, Prius C, Prius V, Prius plug-in), some of which were not available in 2011.

This is a surprising turnaround because, in some respects, the Leaf looks like a better deal than the Volt. The Chevy starts at $39,995, a price many potential buyers sneer at, while the Leaf starts at $35,200.

Nissan mocked the Volt’s use of a gasoline engine-generator in ads featuring a gasoline-powered dentist’s drill, but that may have been premature. Leaf owners will never have to buy gas, to the car’s range is limited to 79 miles, much less than that of any conventional car or hybrid.

Other than that, the Leaf doesn’t seem to have many drawbacks. Unlike the tiny Mitusbishi i-MiEV, the Leaf is an EPA-rated midsize car, with plenty of room for the average person. While the Volt had to contend with a battery fire scare that ultimately proved baseless, the worst recorded quality issue with the Leaf was a claim by Arizona owners that excess heat damaged the batteries.

While disappointed, Nissan is redoubling its efforts to sell the Leaf to America.

“We had a significant increase in Leaf sales in August over the prior months and we are moving in the right direction,” Nissan spokesman David Reuter told The Detroit News. “Our actions to widen availability, train dealers and broaden exposure for Leaf are yielding some positive results and move us closer to meeting our high expectations for the vehicle.”