Nissan showed off its Leaf electric car yesterday, trumpeting its zero-emission technology and practicality with video of the hatchback zipping through snow and water.
The car, among the world’s first mass-market electric vehicles, is already sold out until March next year because of limited production capacity. There have been 6,000 orders in Japan and 20,000 in the US. It arrives in Europe next year.
“This day has finally arrived,” a grinning Nissan Motor Co CEO Toshiyuki Shiga said, before posing for photographs with Japanese customers who had placed orders for the Leaf. “The curtains are about to rise for a new era in the auto industry.”
Shiga said the Leaf will sell in Japan for ￥3.76 million (US$45,000), but with a ￥780,000 government green incentive the price will come down to ￥2.98 million.
The Leaf joins a small club of commercially available mass-produced electric vehicles. General Motors Co’s Chevrolet Volt — which costs US$41,000 — goes on sale this month. The i-MiEV minicar from Mitsubishi Motors Corp went on sale in Japan in April and costs ￥2.84 million with green incentives.
Toyota is introducing an electric version of the iQ ultra--compact in 2012 and is working with Tesla Motors Inc on an electric RAV-4 sport utility vehicle. Honda Motor Co sells three hybrids, the Insight, CR-Z and Fit and plans an electric vehicle in 2012.
The Leaf is rated at 99 miles per gallon (42 kilometers per liter) in the US. The Volt gets 93 miles per gallon. Mileage has not yet been released for the i-MiEV planned for the US market next year.
The Leaf goes 200km on a single charge under Japanese regulation test conditions. The Chevrolet Volt goes about 56km on its battery before a gas engine kicks in and generates electricity to keep it going.
Shiga acknowledged production won’t keep up with demand for a while and some customers are going to have to wait months for the Leaf.
The Leaf is now being produced only in Japan with -production -capacity at 50,000 a year, but production is set to start in the US and Great Britain in 2012 and capacity will rise to 250,000 vehicles, according to Shiga.
Nissan also showed how it was working with apartment complexes and community groups to encourage widespread adoption of electric vehicles through car-sharing and partnerships with local governments.
The big sticking point is the need for charging stations and other infrastructure.
Rempei Matsumoto, author of a book about green vehicles, believes the Leaf is for now little more than an image perk for Nissan.
“They can only be used for limited distances such as picking your kid up from kindergarten or going grocery shopping,” he said in a telephone interview.