Washington — Nissan Motor Co. says the number of female U.S. buyers of its electric Leaf has nearly doubled in recent months, and that the average income and age of buyers has fallen since the automaker cut its price.
At the beginning of 2013, women accounted for just 10 to 15 percent of Leaf buyers, but that has increased to 25 to 30 percent, said Erik Gottfried, director of electric vehicle sales and marketing for Nissan North America. “The early buyers were very heavily skewed male,” Gottfried said at a Washington Auto Press Association luncheon.
“There had been some concern initially of, ‘What if I am by myself and I run out of charge?’” he said.
Nissan announce an 18 percent price cut — to $28,800 — in January. Since then, the average age and average income of Leaf buyers both declined dramatically, Gottfried said. More people in their 30s and families are taking an interest in the vehicle. “We’re seeing a normalization in demographics and geographic footprint of the vehicle,” Gottfried said.
Gottfried said most Leaf buyers cross-shop the Toyota Prius and the plug-in hybrid electric Chevrolet Volt, along with the Tesla Model S in some markets. He said the Leaf has had some unusual trade-ins, including the Ford F-150 pickup.
Nissan said compared to a year ago, Leaf sales were up 99 percent in September to 1,953. In August, Nissan sold 2,420 Leafs. Nissan said Atlanta was again the No. 1 Leaf market in the U.S., buoyed by state tax credits and carpool-lane access. Texas and New Jersey are among the markets with big interest in the Leaf, he said.
Nissan had its best ever-sales month worldwide for the Leaf in September and is now on sale in 30 countries and all 50 U.S. states. About 80 percent of its dealers sell the Leaf. Nissan will be launching in China and the Leaf is being rolled out in South Africa. About 85,000 Leafs have been sold worldwide.
Nissan’s price cut has been followed by nearly every major electric vehicle maker.
In August, General Motors Co. sold 3,351 Chevrolet Volts after announcing a hefty price cut. GM slashed the base price of its plug-in hybrid by $5,000, from $39,995 to $34,995. For the first nine months of the year, Volt sales are up 2.5 percent to 16,760.
Unlike Nissan, GM spokeswoman Michelle Malcho said the automaker has seen no surge among female buyers. This year, 22 percent of Volt buyers are women, and that figure has remained in the 20s since GM started selling the Volt three years ago, she said.
The average age of buyers has fallen slightly this year to 51, down from 53 last year.
Gottfried said Nissan is in the process of creating a program to let people rent replacement batteries. The company has replaced a handful of batteries in hot-weather states like Arizona. Nissan introduced a battery warranty program for five years or 60,000 miles, in late 2012. “We’ve improved the battery chemistry several times since then,” he said.
He said more buyers are picking the Leaf not entirely for environmental reasons. “In the past 12 months it’s shifted to value,” Gottfried said, noting that the company advertises a $199 lease price, which is less than many Americans spend on gasoline monthly. Most Leafs lease for less than $300 a month, he said.