Nissan Leaf: First Mover or Ahead of its Time?

J. Michael Cavanaugh, Catherine C. Giapponi, Sharlene A. McEvoy
December 12, 2016
North America
Strategy & General Management, Marketing & Sales, Operations
14 pages
sustainability, Innovation, Technology, Early Mover
Student Price: 
Average rating: 

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn intends to introduce the first mass-produced all-electric car, the Leaf, in December 2010. His expectation is that by 2012 the vehicle will be mass marketed to the public. If electric cars account for one tenth of all auto sales globally by 2020, as Ghosn predicts, Nissan’s investment could pay off handsomely and Nissan could lead the industry and the country in this transformational transportation technology. Mounting concerns over climate change, growing demand for clean energy alternatives, and the volatility of oil prices pose opportunities for the launch of the Leaf. However, in the role of “pioneer” Nissan faces many challenges, not the least of which is the lack of a fully developed infrastructure to support the vehicle. The uncertain pace of the recovery from the economic crisis of 2007-2008 poses an additional threat. Will Nissan persuade drivers to abandon familiar gas-powered vehicles and embrace a new emission-free technology that will bring its initial headaches, no doubt, but at the same time dramatically signal the end to our dependence on OPEC? Will this first-to-market launch usher in a new era of sustainable automotive transportation or will it prove too beta? As a confident CEO Carlos Ghosn’s contemplates the December introduction, the key question is whether to proceed with the launch.

Learning Outcomes: 
  1. Students will identify the risks and potential rewards of pursuing an early mover strategy through the introduction of a new technology to the mass market.

  2. Students will use a SWOT analysis to analyze and assess Nissan’s strategic decision to launch the Leaf.

  3. Students will explore the implications of transformational technology change in an industry.

  4. Students will identify the trade-offs that must be made by environmentally-conscious consumers to exchange a gas-powered vehicle that takes minutes to refuel versus one that requires hours to recharge.

  5. Students will apply Stakeholder Analysis to a decision involving product development that has broad and substantive technological, environmental and social implications.