The electric-powered Nissan Leaf will make its debut in the Puerto Rico market in January, paving the way for more environmentally friendly vehicles on local roads. The island is the first Latin American market where the automaker will introduce the technologically forward car, Ken Ramírez, vice president of Nissan Latin America and the Caribbean, told News is my Business.
To give the Leaf a running start in the market, Nissan signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government in April 2011, to secure incentives including the elimination of excise taxes on electric vehicles through an amendment of the Internal Revenue Code, among other consumer benefits, Ramírez said.
“Puerto Rico is setting the standard by becoming the first Latin American market where the Nissan Leaf will be launched,” he said. “This step is the result of hard work that began with the signing of the MOU to explore zero-emissions transportation in Puerto Rico.”
The elimination of excise taxes alone would represent a savings of between 22 percent and 28 percent on the cost of the vehicle, which currently starts at $27,700 in the U.S. mainland. Gov. Luis Fortuño has yet to sign the law authorizing the amendment, but is expected to do so in coming days.
While he would not say how much the vehicle would be sold for locally, Ramírez stressed it will be “affordable.”
“Today, Puerto Rico is showing its leadership by establishing incentives for consumers, in this case, through the elimination of excise taxes on electric vehicles,” Ramírez said, adding that Nissan will make 100 vehicles available in the local market during the first year of sales.
The Nissan Leaf vehicles that will be sold locally next year will be rolling out of a stateside production plant, which makes proximity a plus for the island in terms of delivery times.
“Given that we’ll depend on the production line out of our U.S. plant and that stateside demand has been high, we’ll be making 100 units available for sale in Puerto Rico,” Ramírez said. “However, as production increases, we could bring more, depending on the demand.”
Nissan LEAF is the first mass-produced fully electric vehicle, which sets it apart from the rest of the hybrid class. More than 35,000 units have been sold worldwide since its introduction in December 2010, making it the best-selling electric car. Fully charged, the Leaf’s lithium-ion battery is good for 100 miles of road time, which could translate into hundreds of dollars in savings on gas and a significant reduction in polluting gas emissions.
In preparation for the 2013 local debut of the Leaf, Nissan and its local distributor, Motorambar, have invested in specialized training so that sales and service staff is prepared in terms of short-term electric vehicle technologies. The process includes rigorous training at the company’s Tennessee headquarters, Ramírez said.
“Owners can recharge their cars at home. If they charge it on 110-volt power, it will take eight hours to charge if halfway. If they plug it into a 220-volt outlet, they can charge it fully in the same amount of time,” Ramírez said.
“If you consider that the electricity rate in Puerto Rico is 28 cents per kilowatt-hour, then a full charge would cost you about $6.70. Filling up the tank would cost about $12, so that represents a 44 percent savings. If you drive 12,000 miles in a year, that’s a $600 saving,” the executive said.
The fact that the Nissan Leaf can be charged at home takes away some of the concerns brought up by consumers regarding the availability of public charging stations on the island. So far, there are 14 of those installed in Bayamón and Ponce.
Aside from nixing excise taxes, the government could take its incentives a step further by offering a preferential rate to clients who charge their vehicles at home, he said.
“Our interest is that clients receive all of the support they need from Nissan and our work behind-the-scenes with the government is part of that support,” said Ramírez, adding that presently, Nissan holds a 10.4 percent share of the local auto industry market.
“Our fiscal year began in April and through July, Nissan has grown 48 percent in comparison to the same period last year,” he said.
Nissan is already in talks with the governments of Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico to introduce the car under similar agreements as the one inked locally.