Nissan’s Free LEAF Charging Plan Aims to Accelerate EV Adoption

EV chargingElectric vehicles, and their proliferating charging stations, are fast becoming our new transportation normal. And Nissan just made it a bit cheaper for Leaf owners.

Nissan’s new “No Charge to Charge” initiative has launched at over 2,600 stations in 10 U.S. markets, further enticing Leaf owners and late adopters with free electricity — and hopefully generating some free marketing as well. The Japanese automaker is also building an additional 500 quick chargers, which can power up a Leaf to 80 percent capacity in half an hour, “at Nissan dealerships and at business and municipal partners in key LEAF markets across the U.S.,” according to the “No Charge to Charge” press release. Those markets include major cities in California, the Pacific Northwest and Texas, as well as Nashville, Phoenix and D.C. All of them are now accepting the campaign’s new EZ-Charge card, which gives Leaf owners access to free juice at ChargePoint, Blink, Car Charging, AeroVironment and NRG eVgo chargers.

It all seems to add up to a blossoming public realization that Earth’s fleet is ready to be electrified, post-haste.

“I think it is a natural evolution,” Lisa Jerram, Navigant’s senior smart transportation research analyst, told me. “The [automakers] want to move beyond the innovators and early adopters. For the next group of buyers, who weren’t already highly motivated to buy EVs, they’ll need a simple and easy charging process.”

On the surface, it would appear that the Leaf doesn’t need either free marketing or further incentivization. Nissan’s pioneering mass-market EV has consistently outsold Chevy’s Volt since October 2013, as well as Toyota’s plug-in hybrid and Tesla’s more expensive Model S, according to the Inside EVs sales scorecard. Last month, even Tesla’s 1,800 vehicles sold topped Chevy’s 1,777 Volt sales, although that figure fell far short of the Leaf’s 2,347 units moved.

But Nissan is going to have to do better than roughly  2,000 Leaf sales a month if it wants to stay on top of the EV heap.

This week, Tesla announced it passed the 1 GWh single-month charging milestone in June, reminding new and late EV adopters that its “Supercharger network is now the largest fast-charging network on the planet. It’s also the world’s fastest-growing charging network,” Tesla added, neglecting to remind readers that June is also the month that owner Elon Musk announced Tesla is open-sourcing its patents to everyone. That includes automakers who want to exploit its vast charging network, which by 2015 will cover the U.S. like an electric blanket. Which is just in time for delivery of Tesla’s mass-market Model E, a game-changer that will go head to head with the Leaf, Volt and any other non-luxury EV looking to capture the global market.

If you think Nissan wasn’t paying attention to that development, or it didn’t somewhat inspire the “No Charge to Charge” catch-up campaign, then I’ve got a gas-guzzling SUV to sell you.

“It is true that Tesla’s success with their charging network affirmed that the model works and customers like it,” Jerram told me. “It is also fair to note that Nissan backs the CHAdeMO standard and this move helps entrench CHAdeMO in the U.S. market, where it will be facing increased competition from the SAE standard.”

Whatever the motivation, the Leaf’s new freebie is  a welcome solution for a world still drowning in what Musk’s IP announcement called an “enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.” After all, the difference between Tesla and Nissan, Chevy, Toyota, Ford and other EV players is that the former is strictly electric. The “unfortunate reality” of the rest, Musk noted, is that their electric car programs are “small to nonexistent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.”

In the final analysis, the Leaf’s free chargers add up to a nice perk, but not much of an incentive when one factors in all the other polluting cars Nissan makes. The same goes for Ford, whose F-150 truck is still the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. But at least those automakers are finally feeling the EV heat. Let’s hope it gets hotter fast.

EV charging photo CC-licensed by Hawaii Electric on Flickr.

Author: Scott Thill

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