Nissan said on Tuesday it will begin taking orders on April 20 in the U.S. for the electric Leaf sedan which will be priced starting at $32,780 before subsidies.
The all-electric car, which has four doors and a hatchback, will start shipping in 20 areas in the U.S. in the first half of next year and be available nationally later next year. A lease costs $349 per month.
In addition to the purchase price, it's recommended that consumers have a home charging station, made by Aerovironment, installed for an average cost of $2,200, according to Nissan. The all-electric Leaf has a driving range of about 100 miles.
The cost of the car and charging station can both be cut by government incentives. U.S. buyers can benefit from a federal tax credit of $7,500 for the car and half the cost of the charging station up to $2,000. There are also state-level rebates or tax credits in California, Georgia, and Oregon.
Automakers have been considering different options, such as battery leasing, to scale back the upfront costs of buying electric vehicles.
Nissan has been able to price the car in the middle of the U.S. market because it has been doing research and development on lithium ion batteries for 17 years, said Mark Perry, director of product planning at Nissan North America. The company is majority owner in a joint venture with NEC to make cells and battery packs.
"This is the price we had in mind all along. We wanted to bring out a car so that it's affordable and priced for the mass market. So with an effective price of $25,000 (after rebates and credits), you are right in the center of the U.S. car market," Perry said. "In some regions, the effective price will be down around $20,000."
Perry said that because the battery research is "amortized," Nissan will be able to sell the cars at a profit. As it ramps up production volumes, it expects to bring costs down.
On a global level, Nissan projects that it will sell 50,000 Leafs in the first year. The company hopes to have 25,000 orders placed in the U.S. by the end of the year, Perry said. So far, 85,000 "hand raisers" have put their names on the waiting list in the U.S., an indication of the strong demand Nissan expects.
Other major automakers have been more cautious with regards to electrification. Toyota, for example, is placing greater emphasis on hybrids, including plug-in hybrids, because of the cost of batteries.
General Motors designed the Chevy Volt with a large battery pack and a gasoline engine so that consumers can drive hundreds of miles. The company has not announced pricing but executives have indicated that it will cost about $40,000.
Nissan has not yet disclosed warranty information on the battery pack for the Leaf. But drivers can expect that there will be some degradation over time. After about 10 years, the total driving range will degrade from about 100 miles to 70 or 80 miles, Perry said.
One of the biggest concerns, particularly for U.S. drivers, is that consumers will not buy all-electric cars because of the limited range. But Nissan believes that the Leaf will still have widespread appeal. "We don't think it's a problem once people drive the vehicle and see how far they go every day," Perry said, adding that the car is "not for everyone."
Charge time with a home 240-volt charger is about eight hours and about 16 to 18 hours by plugging the car into a standard U.S. 120-volt outlet. Nissan is working with municipalities and utilities in certain areas in an effort to have public charging stations in places, such as parking garages or office parks.
Japan pricing options
Customers in Japan will start to get deliveries of the Nissan Leaf by the end of this year with a global rollout expected in 2012.
In Japan, the starting price is 3.76 million yen, or about $40,500. However, Nissan is offering different pricing options, including a plan where consumers pay 2.4 million yen, or about $25,800, and then a monthly fee of 10,000 yen, or $107, which includes the price of electricity.
Also, Nissan said that it intends to install 200-volt chargers at the 2,200 dealerships in Japan with about 200 dealerships having fast-charging stations that can bring a car to 80 percent charge in 30 minutes.
In addition, Nissan said on Tuesday that it plans to install fast-charging stations in Japan which are about half the cost of current technology.