Nissan Motor Co., which reported record U.S. sales of Leaf hatchbacks in 2013, is optimistic that it can soon double deliveries, Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said.

Sales of the battery-powered Leaf jumped 130 percent last year to 22,610 vehicles, aided by 2,529 deliveries in December, the most ever in a single month for the Yokohama-based firm. That should keep rising, Ghosn said in a CNBC interview Wednesday.

“We are now on a trend of 3,000 cars a month in the U.S., which is about 36,000 cars” a year, Ghosn said. “The next step is moving up to 4,000 a month,” he said, without setting a target date.

Nissan, the world’s most prolific maker of electric cars, and other automakers delivered a record number of hybrid and rechargeable cars and light trucks in the U.S. last year as the industry remains under pressure to boost fuel-efficiency.

Sales of vehicles powered partially or entirely by electricity totaled at least 578,000 units, up more than 100,000 from 2012 and accounting for about 3.7 percent of all new autos sold in the nation, based on figures compiled by Bloomberg and estimates from Autodata Corp.

The U.S. set a goal in 2011 of doubling Corporate Average Fuel Economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. That isn’t equivalent to window sticker-mileage labels intended to show actual mileage for new cars and trucks.

The window-sticker average for all new autos sold in the U.S. last year rose 1 mpg to an all-time high of 24.8 mpg, based on data compiled by University of Michigan researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle. On a U.S. CAFE basis, the average was 30 mpg in 2013, also the best ever, Sivak said Wednesday.

Sales of the Leaf, which arrived in late 2010, were aided by a price reduction in early 2013 and the start of production of the car and its lithium-ion batteries at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee, plant.

While California is the car’s biggest market, demand in Georgia and other parts of the South have lifted sales in the past four months, Fred Diaz, Nissan’s U.S. senior vice president, said in an interview last week.

“They have found the sweet zone for price and demand to at least maintain the current volume, but I don’t know what it will take for them to get it up to 50,000 a year,” said Karl Brauer, an analyst for auto researcher Kelley Blue Book. “We’re still in the early days of the electric-car market, and when you’re at the beginning, you’ve got to learn and make adjustments. That’s what Nissan’s been doing.”

Toyota Motor Corp., led by its Prius hybrid line, was the top U.S. seller of electric-drive autos, delivering 344,892 last year. Ford Motor Co.’s sales of hybrids, plug-ins and battery-only autos jumped 146 percent to 87,776, while General Motors Co.’s line fell 15 percent to 48,724 in 2013.

Hyundai Motor Co., with only a single hybrid model, a version of the Sonata sedan, sold more than 22,500 units last year, surpassing 20,616 deliveries for Honda Motor Co., which has eight electric-drive autos.

Aqua sold best in 2013


Toyota Motor Corp.’s Aqua hybrid vehicle was the best-selling car in 2013 in Japan for the first time, industry bodies said Thursday.

Last year, 262,367 Aquas were sold, down 1.6 percent from a year ago. The renovated model achieved a fuel economy of 37.0 kpl, making it the world’s most fuel-efficient vehicle of its kind apart from plug-in hybrids.

The 2013 ranking reflected the continued popularity of eco-friendly hybrid models and minicars, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association and the Japan Mini Vehicles Association said.

Toyota’s Prius hybrid came in second, selling 253,711 units, followed by Honda Motor Co.’s N-Box with 234,994.

Of the 10 top-selling vehicles, six were minicars with engines no larger than 660cc, including Daihatsu Motor Co.’s Move and Suzuki Motor Corp.’s Wagon R, which ranked fourth and fifth.

Sales of imports rise 10.2%


Sales in Japan of new imported vehicles, including those made abroad by Japanese firms, soared 10.2 percent in December from the year before to 35,593 units, an industry group said Thursday.

Foreign-brand cars surged 16.6 percent to 32,061 units, while sales of Japanese cars sank 26.4 percent to 3,532 units, the Japan Automobile Importers Association said.

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