Nissan, which will soon bring its electric Leaf model to Japan, the US, China and parts of Europe, is anticipating delivery delays as production out of its Japanese plant struggles to fill orders before local production begins in other markets. Customers could expect delays for the first two years particularly as subsidies, such as those recently confirmed by the UK, put a rush on order books. Nissan has already delayed launch in the Netherlands.

According to Gabbi Whitfield, a spokesperson at Nissan UK, supply will be tight at Nissan’s Oppama plant in Japan, which has a capacity for 50,000 units of the model per year. In 2011, Nissan will begin producing the Leaf in Tennessee, and at its Sunderland plant in the UK by 2013. There is no current timetable for production in the world’s largest car market, China.

Whitfield said that orders from Japan and America had already reached 15,000-20,000 by summer. She also indicated that the entire 50,000-vehicle capacity could probably be met by fleet sales alone, but that Nissan wanted a 50-50 split between retail and fleet customers. “For the first few years, Nissan Global will certainly be constrained by supply,” she said. That will put pressure on shipping lines moving Nissan vehicles from Japan, although few will be complaining about the extra volume. While exports from Japan are up this year compared to 2009, they remain relatively low, and have been hurt by a strong Yen.

Nissan will be among the first carmakers to benefit from the subsidies confirmed by the UK for up to £5,000 ($7,750) for ultra-low carbon vehicles, which comes into effect in January 2011 and will be reviewed in January 2012 for extension. In that short window, the only vehicles to the meet the UK government’s criteria are likely to be the Leaf and the Tesla Roadster, although Mitsubishi is expected to launch the iMiev soon after. PSA, Renault, Audi, Smart and General Motors all have plans between 2012 and 2013. The Mitsubishi and Peugeot vehicles will also be built in Japan, which could create further supply constraints.

Anjan Hemanth Kumar, a specialist in electric vehicles for consultancy Frost & Sullivan, points out that most manufacturers are planning their distribution rollout around the initial subsidies, including the US, Japan, UK, Ireland, Portugal and the Netherlands. Although China currently only offers incentives for such vehicles to fleet customers, Kumar suggested that this is an effective means to encourage sales and help production planning in China. “If you have government encouragement in China, it helps [OEMs] to predict orders much better and to design the production line and distribution network,” he said.

The Netherlands launch has now been delayed to June 2011 because of demand in the US and Japan, according to Nissan. Although uncertainty still looms over the recovery, the current pace of sales, limited production, and shortages for shipping capacity could mean the Dutch will not be the only ones waiting.