Nissan GB is confident that local production of its electric Leaf will enable it to overcome any potential dismantling of the UK government’s incentive scheme.
A grant of up to GBP5,000 (US$8,100) is available to British purchasers of EVs – broadly in line with some other European countries – although it remains unclear for how long the subsidy will continue.
Last year’s incoming coalition government in the UK kept the pledge made by its predecessors to incentivise the low-carbon market in which cars can retail at the more expensive end of the market.
“There needs to be stimulus to enable consumers to access the product and we are very grateful the government put in GP5,000 support – it makes Leaf very competitive,” Nissan GB managing director Paul Willcox told just-auto at the Geneva show today (1 March).
“[However] we recognise incentives can’t go on for ever. What will give Nissan a strong, competitive advantage is that we are localising production to the UK.
“When we localise in Sunderland, we will have economies of scale.”
Willcox also remains convinced the UK infrastructure will be able to cope with recharging issues and highlighted the North East, Milton Keynes and London as examples of strong energy replenishment centres.
Wilcox maintained the automaker’s head start – the Leaf is due to go on sale in the UK imminently – would see it establish a dominant position in the field along with alliance partner Renault.
“We will be the leader in electric vehicles – the market has shifted and we are ahead,” he said: “The alliance with Renault means we will have a range of electric vehicles in the market.”
However, UK volume will be capped while Leafs are sourced from Japan where the initial ramp-up has been slow, leading to complaints from US buyers kept waiting for their new EVs.
Willcox estimates that the first year of UK sales will see a “couple of thousand” sold.
Print advertising has already appeared in the UK while a TV campaign is also running in its planned British production home of North East England. “The impact has been dramatic,” Willcox claimed.
Nissan recently started construction of a lithium-ion battery plant in Cacia, Portugal, to supply electric vehicles sold by the alliance in Europe.
The facility will start operations in December 2012 with capacity of 50,000 units a year. Around 200 jobs are expected to be created.
It will join the alliance’s other European battery plant in the UK, next to the Nissan assembly plant in Sunderland, which will produce 60,000 units a year, and Renault’s battery plant in Flins, France which will have a total annual capacity of 100,000 units.
Nissan GB has selected 25 of its best performing dealers to sell the Leaf.