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Nissan introduces 11% cheaper Leaf as sales lag behind target

Nissan Motor Co., Japan’s second-largest carmaker, introduced a cheaper version of the Leaf electric vehicle to lure cost-conscious buyers as sales of the original model lag behind the company’s target.

The new Leaf will be priced at 3.35 million yen ($41,000), 11 percent less than the 3.76 million yen for the previously cheapest Leaf in Japan, the automaker said in a statement Tuesday. Nissan has sold fewer than 12,000 Leaf units in the first half worldwide, while targeting full-year sales of 40,000 units, the company said.

The Leaf’s price and the lack of charging infrastructure are deterring buyers, according to Yoshiaki Kawano, a Tokyo-based analyst with IHS Automotive. The new S grade Leaf has a fully charged driving range of 142 miles, slightly better than the older versions, according to the statement.

“The introduction of the new version is going to help Leaf’s stagnating sales because it offers price-sensitive shoppers more options,” Kawano said.

The S grade Leaf went on sale Tuesday in Japan, according to the statement. An updated model will be available in the United States by March 31, Senior Vice President Masaaki Nishizawa told reporters in Tokyo Tuesday.

Nissan won’t meet its sales target this year for Leaf in the United States, the car’s largest market, Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said in a Bloomberg Television interview last week.

Slumping sales

Sales of Leaf, the only mass-market electric car sold in the United States that doesn’t have a backup gasoline engine, have fallen 16 percent this year through October compared with 2011, its first full year of sales. Nissan plans to sell 20,000 Leafs in the United States this year, while sales through October totaled 6,791.

“We’re trying to convince more cities and states to invest in this infrastructure,” Ghosn said. “We recognize the fact that the increase of sales is taking more time than we thought at the beginning.”

Nissan currently offers two high-specification versions of the Leaf that include features such as advanced navigation and a rear-view monitoring system. It’s the first time the carmaker has added a cheaper variant to the battery-powered vehicle.

Electric vehicle prices are higher than comparable non- electric models and on par with entry-level luxury sedans such as Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s 328i, Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence at TrueCar.com, said.

Ford Motor Co.’s (NYSE: F) Focus EV starts at $39,200 and General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) charges $39,145 for the Chevrolet Volt. Buyers of each qualify for a $7,500 U.S. tax credit.

Nissan has sold 43,000 Leaf units to date, the automaker said Tuesday.

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