Nissan Leaf picks Jejudo for Korean debut

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Feb 19, 2014 - 20:09
  • Updated : Feb 19, 2014 - 20:09
Nissan Motor’s Leaf electric vehicle (right) stands on display at the company’s showroom in Yokohama, Japan, in May 2013. (Bloomberg)

Nissan’s fully electronic Leaf compact will make its Korean debut next month on Jejudo Island, heating up the competition in the nation’s nascent electric car market.

According to industry sources on Wednesday, the Japanese carmaker will launch its Leaf vehicle at the International Electric Vehicle Expo held in Jejudo from March 15 to 21. Nissan will transport the vehicles directly from its U.S. factory for the week-long exhibition.

“Until a few weeks ago, Nissan was skeptical about the Korean entry. But the final decision was made recently after its executives looked around the abundant infrastructure for electric vehicles on the island,” said an industry source close to the matter.

The source said that Billy Hayes, Nissan’s vice president in charge of global sales, visited Jejudo twice over the past weeks and was greatly impressed by the provincial government’s generous incentives and wide charging networks.

While Nissan Korea has yet to announce the official launch, the source predicted that the Leaf was likely to go on sale within the first half of the year in Korea, starting in Jejudo.

Launched in 2010, the Nissan Leaf is the world’s best-selling electric car. Last year, its accumulative sales exceeded 100,000 units.

Nissan is the latest among global carmakers that have been rushing to the Korean resort island due to its diverse benefits for electric vehicles, including the highest-level subsidies for EV purchase.

Jejudo provides a combined 23 million won ($21,800) in rebates for EV buyers. The amount is almost double those in other countries. The United States and Japan ― the two top-seller markets of electric cars ― offer up to $10,000 and $13,300 (or 1.39 million yen), respectively.

So far, only three Korea-made models ― Renault Samsung’s SM3 Z.E., Kia Motors’ Ray EV and GM Korea’s Chevrolet Spark EV ― have competed in the market. But this year more fashionable, price-competitive rivals such as the BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf will join the race.

Other carmakers like California-based Tesla and France’s Mia Electric are also considering entering the market as early as next year.

Adding to the cash benefits, Jejudo is also a perfect test-bed for electric cars. With the aim to replace all the 371,000 vehicles on the island with electric models by 2030, the government is expanding charging stations. The 190-kilometer-long road around the island is also within the driving range of most electric vehicles on a single charge.

By Lee Ji-yoon (