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Nissan starts making Leaf in U.S., will offer lower-cost model

January 09, 2013|By Jerry Hirsch
  • Nissan said it will increase the range of its Leaf electric car and offer a lower-priced version later this year.
Nissan said it will increase the range of its Leaf electric car and offer… (Scott Olson / Getty Images )

Nissan said Wednesday that it will offer a lower-priced version of its Leaf electric car this year and that it has begun making the Leaf and its battery pack at the automaker’s giant factory complex in Smyrna, Tenn.

The Japanese automaker also said it will increase how far the Leaf can travel on one charge, but did not provide any specifics.

Nissan also didn't give any details on new pricing for the Leaf. The current model starts at $36,050 including a destination fee. That is before a $7,500 federal tax break and, for California buyers, a $2,500 state rebate, which together lower the price to $26,050.  Nissan also offers a lease deal under which customers can pay $199 a month for 36 months with $1,999 down.

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"Since we launched the Leaf in 2010, we've learned that people are very attracted to the advanced technology and other amenities, but they are also looking for a more affordable price point," said Brian Carolin, Nissan's senior vice president of sales and marketing.

However, the range of electric cars has been an issue in their slow adaptation by consumers, who worry that they will run out of electricity on the road. The Leaf can go 72 miles on a charge, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, at the lower end of ranges for electric cars.

The electric version of the Ford Focus has a range of 76 miles per charge, while Honda’s electric Fit can travel 82 miles. The versions of Tesla’s Model S now in production can go 200 miles or more.  

Nissan also said the 2013 version of the Leaf will have an optional 220-volt mode that will reduce the charging time in half to about four hours.

The Leaf was the first of a new generation of mass-produced electric cars introduced to the U.S. market.  But it and other electric vehicles have not sold well, hampered by their high prices relative to conventional gasoline-powered compact cars and by their limited range.

Even though the Leaf is the best-seller, Nissan sold fewer than 10,000 units last year. Honda, by comparison, sold fewer than 100 of its Fit electric vehicles.

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan Motor Co., is expected to give more details about the Leaf and Nissan's strategy for electric cars at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week.

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