Nissan's all-electric Leaf challenges GM Volt and Toyota Prius

With a federal tax credit and state rebates, the price for Nissan's zero-emission, all-electric Leaf could be just above $20,000. Fully charged, it'll go 100 miles.

Toshiyuki Shiga, chief operating officer of Japan's Nissan Motor Co., poses with charging cord attached to a Nissan Leaf electric vehicle at the company's global headquarters in Yokohama on March 30. Nissan expects to start selling its zero-emission Leaf in Japan in December.

Nissan's announcement Tuesday of a price for its new Leaf – the first mass-produced, all-electric battery-powered vehicle – is sending ripples through online consumers who've been waiting for it, and through the auto industry, too.

As recently as December, the buzz among auto analysts and the outcome of several battery-cost studies pointed to a plug-in vehicle that would just be too pricey for the average auto buyer. But now it seems likely that the Nissan vehicles will sell for less than $30,000 – a critical price point if President Obama's goal of 1 million plug-ins on the road by 2015 is to be met.

"When I heard the price, I was ecstatic because I knew it would mean Nissan is going to sell a lot of these, and that's going to help our country," says Paul Scott, vice president of Plug In America, an advocacy group that tracks vehicle development. "We think word-of-mouth on this car is going to be better than any consumer product since the iPod."

Tax breaks bring down price

Nissan said the suggested price will be $32,780 for its little five-seat Leaf, which will go 100 miles on a charge. A federal tax credit of $7,500 will bring the cost down to $25,280 – in line with the Honda Civic and Toyota Prius. In some states like Georgia and California, which enjoy an added $5,000 state rebate, the cost to the buyer will land just above $20,000.

Martin Golder declares on his Web page that "I am now #1 on the waiting list for a Nissan Leaf in Victoria BC," one among some 85,000 other "hand raisers" the company says are waiting to get a Leaf.

"We've already got 187 people on our waiting list," exults Jim Bone, sales manager of Nissan of Santa Rosa in California. "I was thrilled with the price. It means a lot of people will be wanting this car."

Customers who buy a Leaf can charge it overnight in their garages on a standard 110-volt outlet. Or, for $2,200, they can purchase a 220-volt charging dock that would cut the charge time to four or five hours. A tax rebate would cover half the cost of the charge station, up to $2,000. So, with the charging station, the Leaf would cost $26,480.

Mr. Scott and others see plug-ins as a way for the US to replace foreign oil used for transportation with domestically generated electricity, while also addressing climate change. With carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants expected to come under federal control, electricity will be the cleanest, cheapest fuel, he says. Gasoline prices, meanwhile, are headed up, he notes.

Leaf puts pressure on Volt and Prius

"This Leaf pricing is really going to light a fire under the competition," Scott says. "It means that GM is going to have to get competitive with the pricing of the Chevy Volt, and the Toyota Prius is going to feel the heat, too."

Some analysts had speculated that the Volt, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that runs on batteries for 40 miles before a gasoline generator on board kicks in, would sell for about $40,000 – unaffordable for most people, even after tax rebates. But for months, GM has been saying its pricing for the Volt – which goes on sale this fall – would be lower than that, and that battery costs were being overestimated by scientific panels.

"I think it's fair to say their pricing, it won't overwhelm, but it will have some influence on our pricing decision," Rob Peterson, a GM spokesman told the Associated Press.

Nissan has said it will begin taking "consumer reservations" for the Leaf on April 20 from a list of people who have already submitted their names on its website. At that time, the company will require a refundable $99 reservation fee. Reserving a Nissan Leaf ensures a place in line when Nissan begins taking orders in August, the company says.

Initially, the car will be available in select markets, including California, Oregon, Washington, Tennessee, Arizona, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Massachusetts. The company expects to be selling the vehicles nationwide by the end of 2011.

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