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San Diego will be among first areas to test new all-electric vehicles

The city's Gas & Electric Co. signed a contract to lease 15 to 20 electric vehicles from Nissan-Renault. The automobiles, in the last stages of development, will be available to the public in 2012.

March 24, 2009|Tony Perry

SAN DIEGO — If the future is widespread use of electric cars, it may arrive in San Diego before other places in car-happy Southern California.

Renault-Nissan and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. announced a deal Monday to deploy Nissan's new all-electric vehicle on the roads here before it hits the consumer market in 2012. The utility plans to lease 15 to 20 and urge its customers -- private, public and military -- to consider switching to electric vehicles.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders called the agreement a leap forward in making San Diego "a national center for clean technology and green practices."

The San Diego Board of Port Commissioners is also looking at leasing four to five of the vehicles.

Nissan has reached similar agreements with Sonoma County, Oregon, Tucson and Tennessee, where Nissan's factory is located.

San Diego G&E is also exploring the idea of building charging stations at convenient spots, said Debra L. Reed, the company's president and chief executive.

At the moment, charging the lithium-ion battery from a standard 220-volt line, used by home clothes dryers and most industrial sites, takes between four and eight hours. The goal is to build charging stations that can bring the battery to 80% capacity in 26 minutes, said Mark Perry, director of product planning and strategy for Nissan North America.

Nissan plans to sell the vehicle to the fleet market next year and to the consumer market two years later, Perry said.

The vehicle displayed Monday -- a bit boxy and with a right-hand drive -- was a prototype. The look will be modified before it hits the market, Nissan officials said.

Stephen Cushman, Port Commission chairman and longtime car dealer, said he was impressed that the prototype has what other all-electric cars have lacked: decent pickup speed from the start.

"This is a real car," Cushman said. "First one I've driven that is a real car."

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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