Remember last year, when Nissan was creating lots of buzz around the imminent debut of its Leaf all-electric vehicle? Auto electrification had become a cause célèbre — and celeb, with VIP endorsers.
Nissan's first Leaf TV commercial, which debuted in September, also sparked consumer interest, featuring a polar bear's journey to thank the buyer of a new Leaf, creating a pronounced feel-good moment in brand marketing in 2010.
OK, so where’s the car?
Only about 500 Americans have been able to purchase a Leaf so far as Nissan slowly ramps up production not only for the US market but also for Europe and Japan. That means very few North American consumers are actually seeing them on the road, making it easy to forget about Leaf before it’s even upon us.
Meanwhile, General Motors already has sold more than double that number of Chevrolet Volt, its extended-range hybrid that is the closest competitor to Leaf.
GM also has chosen to put some advertising muscle behind Volt to keep it – ahem – current, and so far Volt seems to be leading Leaf in every significant category including culturally relevant conversation. (Of course, some of that talk now revolves around a Volt and a suspicious garage fire in Connecticut.)
Making matters worse for Nissan, now comes word that the Leaf has a software problem causes the car not to start after an instrument-panel warning light illuminates. It’s easily reprogrammable at a Nissan dealer, and it’s certainly a plus that the company can notify Leaf owners of the problem via the car’s on-board telematics system.
But a glitch is a glitch, and a recall is a recall. And recalling a car before it's even fully available is not what Nissan's marketers had in mind — particularly if it causes potential buyers to reconsider Leaf.
There’s only so much that $4-a-gallon gasoline can do for an EV if it isn’t on the road. Maybe Nissan is waiting to see what $5-a-gallon gasoline can do.
Meanwhile, check out the latest ad for the 100% electric Leaf, below, by TBWA\Chiat\Day in Los Angeles.
The spot "shows the impact of a no-emissons car by embracing zero, not as an absence, but rather as a means of preservation and independence from foreign oil," as TBWA's Nicholas Bordas puts it: