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Nissan and GM Launch their Electric Cars; LEAF to Cost Almost $10K Less than Volt

Steve Puma | Thursday July 29th, 2010 | 11 Comments

2011 Nissan LEAF2011-Chevy-Volt-1 (1).jpg

The Plug-In 2010 Conference in San Jose was the site of major announcements by major auto manufacturers Nissan and General Motors. During their Tuesday morning speeches, both Nissan North America’s executive vice president, Carlos Tavares, and General Motors vice president of U.S. marketing, Joel Ewanick, announced that their much-anticipated products would be available in only a limited number of cities, at first, and that both companies will begin delivering cars by the end of the year.

Even though there are many similarities and differences, both Nissan and GM are betting that U.S. auto buyers will embrace the plug with open arms.
The Leaf and the Volt are the first mass-market plug-in electric vehicles to be sold in the U.S. The LEAF is a “pure” battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, and has no gasoline motor whatsoever. Its range is approximately 100 miles. The Volt, however, with an “all-electric” range of only 40 miles, augments its smaller battery pack with a gas motor that can recharge the battery while the vehicle is in motion. While this gives the Volt unlimited effective range, it means that the Volt is not truly “zero emissions”.

This also means that the Volt is a more complex vehicle, and this has apparently been reflected in the price. While the LEAF has been priced at $32,780, the Volt comes in at a much more hefty $41,000. The $7,500 Federal tax credit, and the $2,500 state credit available in CA and some other states, drops these prices to $22,780 and $31,000, respectively, putting the vehicles in completely different buyer segments.

There are two things that consumers are concerned about: range and battery life. While range is not a concern with the Volt, Nissan is addressing the issue with a large consumer education campaign. (The range problem is actually a red herring, since, according to several studies, including one from Pike Research, most drivers travel less than 75 miles a day, and the weighted average is less than 30 miles per day.) Both companies are addressing the battery life issue by including 8 year/100,000 mile warranties on their batteries.

Both vehicles will only be available for purchase in a limited number of cities, at first. According to Nissan, the LEAF “first will be available to consumers in December, in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Tennessee. These areas are home to The EV Project – the largest electric vehicle and infrastructure deployment ever undertaken.” GM will follow a somewhat similar pattern with the Volt, with California, New York, Michigan, Connecticut, Texas, New Jersey and the Washington D.C being the first to have access to it.

Nissan adds these further details: “Nissan LEAF will be introduced to Texas and Hawaii shortly thereafter, in January 2011; North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina and Alabama follow in April 2011; and be rolled-out to the balance of the nation beginning in Fall 2011 with availability in all markets nationwide by the end of that year.”

The Volt can be pre-ordered online, or from a participating dealer, with a $99 deposit, and actual delivery of vehicles will begin “late this year”. A dedicated GM advisor will keep the buyer appraised of the purchase and delivery process, and answer questions.

The Nissan has already secured 17,000 pre-orders (which also require a $99 deposit), and customers in the pre-launch states “will be able to place firm orders…starting in August.”

The Nissan representatives that I spoke to where very enthusiastic about consumer response to the LEAF, and said that the company expects to sell out its entire production capacity of 50,000 units by the end of 2011. The Nissan folks also said that the company has no current plans to add additional capacity.

GM’s outlook for the Volt doesn’t appear to be quite so rosy. According to Ucilia Wang of DailyFinance.com, “GM doesn’t expect to sell a lot of Volts in its initial years. The plan is to produce 10,000 units through 2011 and 30,000 in 2012.”

From a few days speaking to attendees at Plug-In 2010, those who have seen both cars are generally excited about the LEAF, and not so much about the Volt. A lot of this has to do with the approximately $10K price difference. I personally believe that Nissan’s choice to design an entirely new platform for its first EV offering will end up being the deciding factor, but only time will tell.

One thing that everyone does agree on is that plug-in electric vehicles are finally here, and they are here to stay. Do you agree or disagree? Let us know what you think by adding your comments.

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Steve Puma is Director of Business Development for SABA Motors, and a sustainability writer/consultant. His work focuses on clean transportation, including Plug-In Electric Vehicles, something he is very passionate about.

Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and a BA in Computer Science from Rutgers University. You can learn more about Steve by reading his blog, or following his tweets.


▼▼▼      11 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Chefofthewoods

    So far as the difference, I think the Leaf targets urban environments where limited commutes and weather extremes are the norm, while the Volt is a more practical application that, despite the price tag, won't strand you on the side of the road when its out of juice, and is more reliable for exurban and rural use with a gasoline backup. For that reason I'd pick the Volt – but its a heavily demographic dependent decision.

  • Detfan

    Keep in mind that the Volt is primarily going to be sold with a $350 36 month lease. The Leaf's leaf's lease is $349, so the Volt will certainly be competitive, despite the sticker price. I am more concerned with how much mileage you get in the Volt when the engine kicks on. I have read that the tank is 9 gallons and the gas range is 300 miles. That's under 33 MPG. These two numbers have been discussed in the past but have not been officially confirmed. I'm hoping for a 7 gallon tank and a 350 mile gas range, which would be 50 MPG in gas running mode. We know soon, I'm sure.

    • Steve Puma

      Thanks for your comments. I believe that you may be correct on the first part, I suppose it depends on how many people decide to lease the LEAF instead of purchasing it outright. I can tell you that Nissan knows its early customers will have above-average incomes and will also be the early-adopters that are fanatical about their EVs. After what GM did with the EV1 leases, many would not be happy to have a repeat of that experience.

      The MPG stat is probably not going to be much of a factor. The Department of Transportation, Ernst & Young and Pike Research have all done studies which confirm that the vast majority of US drivers average less than 40 miles a day. As a matter of fact, it is much closer to 30.

      This applies across all geographic areas, surprisingly. Over 97% of all drivers less than 75 miles per day, and the weighted average is a surprising 26.6. Of course, if you only drive 10 miles most days, but you have a 75-mile trip to the nearest grocery store, the LEAF will not be the car for you.

      But it does mean that the Volt will spend a significant portion of its time running in fully-electric mode, regardless of who is driving it.

    • http://www.future-lab.com Rsmereka

      An interesting fact about the Volt is that GM won't tell us it's fuel consumption when the ICE kicks in. That raises a big red flag for me. How about you?

      • Steve Puma

        Personally, I don't care much about the fuel consumption when the gas engine is running. The reason, is that it should not be running, most of the time. (See my comments in the article, and my response to Detfan)

        In addition, since it does not directly power the wheels in any way, the engine, more correctly referred to as a generator, should be much more efficient that another motors of similar size. While this is speculation on my part, it makes sense, since there would be significantly less load.

  • Jjss22189

    These cars are putting the cart before the horse as much as we need them and want them we as a society are truly not ready for them on the grand scale. Could it work?….maybe but not likely until many changes are made to support a gasless society. I hope for the best.

    • Steve Puma

      I am curious why you think so. Perhaps we are not ready to flip the switch to a “gassless”, as you put it, society today, but there is certainly no reason why you can't sell a car like this. Many, many studies have shown that most people only drive less than 40 miles a day. In addition, those same people would charge their vehicles at night, so they wouldn't need charging stations. People falling under those two criteria need nothing else.

      It is not putting the cart before the horse, because others are working on the infrastructure, including almost all electric utilities, and numerous startup companies that have already developed charging solutions. It will all be rolled-out simultaneously, with efforts such as the EV Project.

  • Ckimosabe18

    If you want to drive something called a leaf and if you want to drive something that looks like that then go for it. Looks like just another Nerd Schmuck Mobile.

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  • http://carolinastudes.net Jeff DeWitt

    The Volt cost more than the Leaf because it’s a real car that can be used in the real world.

    Pure electrics are all very nice for short commutes in decent weather, but for longer drives in the dark with heat, AC, lights and or wipers the range is going to really drop, and it’s not like you can restart a dead Leaf by pouring a gallon of watts into it!

    The Volt is something new, and I wish GM success with it. If the technology is successful they will spread it across their car lines and the cost will drop considerably.

    Pure electrics like the Leaf will always have limited markets until and unless we come up with considerably better batteries that can be charged quickly.

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  • Fred

    Waiting for the plug in car to arrive has been too much for me, so I bought an ebike. Now I am feeling even worth, I love driving by the gas stations and totally enjoy the quiet tone of my electric motor. I will by any plug in driving at least 100 miles on one charge.

  • Rob Bryan

    Steve, I disagree with range being a red herring. If you can only own one car, range is relevant. “Average” gets you 80% of your driving but what do you do when you need to take a 500 mile trip? Rent?

    As a two car family, we’re looking at the Leaf but wouldn’t if we didn’t have the Hybrid Highlander for mountain trips and big snow.

    On another note, Colorado, being a very green state with generous incentives, the lack of a 4WD BEV is surprising. 2WD can be a serious deficiency much of the time here.

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