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

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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.

Steve Puma is a sustainable business consultant and writer.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.