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Nissan begins limited test-drives for Leaf EV

The automaker will be previewing the battery-powered car this month for shareholders, journalists, government officials, and some customers to drum up enthusiasm before December launch.

Nissan Motor on Friday kicked off a week-long test-drive event for its Leaf electric car, saying it had a combined 20,000 orders in Japan and the United States six months before the car goes on sale.

Japan's No. 3 automaker is inviting 500 journalists, shareholders, government officials, and some customers who have placed reservations to drive the five-seater hatchback at its test track near Tokyo in an exclusive preview through June 19.

Nissan is counting on the zero-emission Leaf to regain its reputation as a technology leader after trailing Toyota Motor and Honda Motor in fuel-efficient hybrid cars.

Nissan and its French partner Renault are the most aggressive proponents of battery-run electric cars, aiming to become the first in the world to sell them in large numbers with a global roll-out of eight models in 2012.

Ahead of the Leaf's December launch in Japan, United States, and select European markets, Nissan hopes to dash any remaining doubts over the practicality of electric cars, whose limited driving range is seen as their biggest shortcoming.

The Leaf has a maximum listed range of 160 km (100 miles), which could be cut by half depending on traffic conditions, temperature and use of air-conditioning.

To allay "range anxiety," the Leaf is equipped with an on-board telematics system that tells drivers how far they can go with the remaining battery power, or where the nearest charging station is.

Powered by an electric motor that runs on Nissan's in-house developed lithium-ion batteries, the Leaf provides smooth and near-instant acceleration that engineers said was better than that of a 3.5-liter gasoline engine car.

With no engine, the car is silent. In a first for the industry, Nissan said it developed an artificial sound -- a combination of a high and low-pitched hum--for the Leaf to make at speeds below 30 km/hour to alert pedestrians of its combination of a high and low-pitched hum--for the Leaf to make at speeds below 30 km/hour to alert pedestrians of its approach.

The Leaf has a sticker price of 3.76 million yen ($41,130) in Japan and is expected to cost consumers 2.99 million y en after government subsidies. Japan has not disclosed incentives policies beyond the fiscal year to end-March 2011.