Hmmm. My take is different. I think they built a car that would only ever be attractive to a very small audience. Leaf gen 1 was never going to be a crowd pleaser, even if it had had much greater range. Its styling was too provocative. Given its functional limitations, all the more so.
We won't know about the latter factor, because Tesla had redefined the market and its expectations by the time Nissan finally got around to giving the gen 1 a bigger battery. They couldn't go really big without offering a completely different driving experience ala Tesla, with a price point to match. Different vehicle and market entirely.
But I also don't think this was lost on the strategists at Nissan in the beginning. They knew they were delivering a vehicle with serious functional constraints. I can't believe that their focus group studies would have told them otherwise. This suggests that the provocative styling was deliberate - Leaf gen 1 was never intended as a mainstream car. I think it might be considered a success if measured against those upfront expectations. The market changed out underneath them.
Which raises an interesting question. Imagine looking forward from the beginning, what were their expectations at the time? Did they think that battery tech would advance faster than it did? Were they testing the waters to gauge market acceptance (odd experiment if I'm right with my conjecture above - what can you learn about market acceptance when delivering a small niche vehicle?) Were they just wanting to mitigate the development costs while pushing battery and battery manufacturing development? Did they even consider marketing a hot EV sports car priced high end?
Innovation arises out of the creative, incremental re-combination of existing and adjacent insights and technologies. It almost never happens how Hollywood describes it. It is fundamentally a non-linear, complex process, one that defies predictability. That is, it is most amenable to experimental discovery - safe-to-fail experiments instead of fail-safe design. In a manufacturing space, particularly one that requires enormous capital expenditures and long lead times, this is a daunting challenge. All the more reason to give Tesla props. What they've accomplished is quite remarkable.
I've shared my experiences talking about EVs with a fairly wide variety of people in the Boulder-Denver area, one that enjoys a relatively strong EV market - hardly anyone would ever consider driving even our car, a reasonably recognizable small car (styling wise) available at a ridiculous price after incentives in our state, with a strong motor, a big battery, plenty of range, well above-average performance and a nice interior. Not to mention a competitive tech package. No one says, "wow that's amazing, I'll have to look into one of those." Tesla has nothing to do with it. No one says, "why not a Tesla?" either.
I have a friend who works at NREL. Her first question was, "How long does the battery last?" Not range - longevity. Nothing but skepticism. And she drives a Nissan. My point here is simply that there are many more barriers to acceptance than we commonly hear about, on this board or on other sites devoted to EVs. There's a whole range of intangibles at work.
Under such circumstances, working out a successful strategy will be difficult indeed. I'm not expecting VW or the others to break through anytime soon, barring some major catastrophe that genuinely impacts vast swaths of the population. All of the West can catch fire, and the middle of the country just shrugs its shoulders. Who knows what it will take.
I don't envy the decision makers at the major manufacturers though. They have hard jobs. A lot of people depend on them for their livelihoods too.
Edit: I like the description of our current Leafs as "high value medium range EVs". It remains to be seen whether there is a large market potential for these. So far, it seems not.
Empty-nesters - NW Denver-Boulder Area
2019 Leaf SL Plus
2015 Audi Q5 TDI
2007 BMW Z4 3.0Si
2012 VW GTI