Loyal Leaf owners brainstorming Nissan Leaf marketing ideas
One sign of a extremely loyal following is when the customers of a product start developing marketing pitches, and otherwise begin promoting the product. Worried Nissan Leaf owners, looking at the sales trends, are beginning to earnestly discuss what Nissan should be doing differently to promote the Leaf. Last year the Leaf was selling pretty well. That is, while the Leaf sales were a fraction of typical gas car sales, sales were growing, Leaf sales exceeded that of the Prius in its first years of availability, and Leaf sales compared to past sales of electric cars was phenomenal. Unfortunately, this year Leaf sales have dropped considerably, and while many attribute it to the approval of California HOV lane stickers for the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in, maybe there's something else, the advertising campaign perhaps, that could be improved, according to discussion among Leaf owners.
Nissan's sales goal for fiscal year 2012 (ends March 31, 2013) is 20,000 Leaf's. With 3,148 Nissan Leaf sales so far this calendar year the company has a long way to go to meet that sales goal. The Smyrna TN plant is due to begin domestic production of the Nissan Leaf at a much higher production volume. It may be that Nissan is waiting for that factory before beginning a large scale marketing push. Another issue is that the scuttlebutt conversation says the Nissan Leaf price is expected to fall once that factory begins production, because of a combination of import duties and higher volume production. Whether or not the price drops, the expectation of a lower price in a few months could act to dry up sales.
By the way, for an earlier example of a rabid loyal following of an electric car, recall the GM EV1. That car (and a few other electric cars) was launched during the previous era of electric cars in California. Those electric cars from GM and other makers were built in limited production volumes, epitomizing what we now call "compliance cars": built in small volumes, available only under lease, and offered only in states with strong requirements for low-emissions vehicles. When California gutted the zero emissions vehicle program, GM and the other automakers immediately responded by retrieving electric cars from lease holders and crushing the cars. That led to the DONTCRUSH.ORG campaign, launched by loyal EV1 fans, shown in the documentary movie Who Killed the Electric Car. Some of those fans later banded together to form Plug In America.
While there isn't much sign that Nissan is aiming to backpedal away from electric car production plans, like GM did 10 years ago, one aspect of the GM EV1 story is complaints about the curiously strange advertising GM published. Likewise some of the discussion of Nissan's marketing focuses on the strange advertising for the Nissan Leaf. Such as the singing electrical sockets advertisement Nissan published last winter.
For example, one suggestion is advertising that shows the white HOV lane sticker in California advertising. While the Volt and Prius Plug-In qualify for a green HOV sticker, the white HOV sticker is a better deal because it won't expire.
If the two main concerns stopping potential Leaf buyers from purchasing are "range and price," it's up to Nissan to assuage those concerns.
Show families which own two cars, driving the electric car for around-town trips, and the gas car for longer trips. This is the most pragmatic solution to range anxiety today, to own a second car used primarily for the longer trips. Some families are choosing to own both a Leaf and a Volt, but we shouldn't expect Nissan to show such families in their advertising.
Another item to show is the CHADEMO quick charging port on the Leaf, which by itself has the potential to erase range anxiety. Unfortunately the value of that port depends on there being enough CHADEMO charging stations in the public. Rollout of those fast charging stations has been slow, despite announcements of fast charging networks in the SF Bay Area, Chicago, California, and elsewhere. The standards battle between CHADEMO and the SAE DC Quick Charge forces have not helped. This means that while the CHADEMO port is a potentially valuable feature of the Leaf, its value is not being fully realized because the CHADEMO charging infrastructure is not available enough.
Nissan could also create better education about typical driving patterns (the average driver travels less than 50 miles a day by car) that are perfectly satisfied by all electric cars like the Nissan Leaf. One way to demonstrate this is to show a typical urban area, and the number of interesting places to go within a 35 mile radius of a suburban home.