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Nissan to take Leaf reservations in April

Consumers can pay $100 to reserve an electric Leaf sedan although the price still isn't known. Expect all-electric cars sales to perk up in certain regions first, much the way hybrids did.

Nissan will start taking reservations for its Leaf all-electric sedan in April, with deliveries coming at year's end.

The company isn't disclosing the car's price tag, but Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has said it will be competitively priced with similarly sized vehicles, which the company sees as crucial to mass market adoption. The $100 reservation fee is refundable, and the company will start to take actual orders in August, Nissan said Thursday.

The design of the car is very much aimed at everyday use, although its anticipated 100-mile driving range does impose limits. It's a four-door sedan with a hatchback, as well as on-board features to help drivers track battery charge level and remaining range.

As they plan their electric car launches, carmaker executives have been considering the idea of separating the price of the battery--which significantly adds to the cost of production--from the purchase. But Nissan indicated that batteries are included in the cost, whether it's a purchase or a lease.

Of the incumbent auto companies, Nissan is the most bullish on all-electric vehicles and the company's nationwide public tour in the U.S., which ended Thursday, was marked by a "groundswell of grassroots support," according to Nissan. The company earlier this month secured a $1.4 billion loan from the Department of Energy to modify Nissan's Smyra, Tenn., plant to produce the Leaf and its batteries.

Still, the question of sticker price continues to hang over the Leaf--and the electric car segment in general. Optimists expect that plug-in cars--whether they are hybrids or battery electrics--will become a sizable slice of the auto market over the next 10 years, much the way hybrids sales have grown because of consumer demand. Nissan projects that electrics will be about 10 percent of the market in 2020.

But auto industry experts point out that the hefty price of batteries is not projected to drop dramatically in the next few years, which will limit its adoption even with tax credits for plug-in cars. The Boston Consulting Group forecasts that sales of hybrids will represent nearly three-quarters of electric car sales by 2020.

Most likely, electric cars like the Leaf will take hold in certain regions, which would mimic the sales pattern of hybrids. Consumers' needs for range vary in different parts of the country and world, which would make an electric car more suitable in San Francisco, for example, than in rural Iowa.

Also, certain municipalities are eager to promote electric vehicles adoption by providing incentives for public charging stations and simplified permitting for installing 240-volt charging points in people's homes. The DOE has also provided grants to pay for over 6,000 recharging stations in Seattle, Phoenix, Tuscon, Ariz., and San Diego, in addition to locations in Tennessee and Oregon.

So even though the Leaf and other electric cars are expected to cost more upfront, you'll start to see them on U.S. streets early next year.