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Nissan LEAF Heats up EV Competition With 2010 Release

04/14/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Nissan LEAF is the car company's first all-electric offering, competing with the Chevy Volt, Ford Focus and options from several other smaller companies. It fits in the family car model of the Prius or Honda Accord size-wise but looks more like an SUV that's been deflated a bit, probably because it has a roomy hatch in the back. If you've ever driven a car with a hatch instead of a trunk, you know how incredibly convenient they are for carting stuff around- just fold the seats down and you have enough room for large boxes, sports equipment, and more. All in all, it looks good, and would fit in just fine anywhere- its only design quirk is some raised headlights that protrude out of the front hood like tiny fins. Oh, and the electric socket at the front of the hood that's for charging the car, pictured below.

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Nissan's serious about this release; they've spent the time and money in these challenging economic times to tour the United States, stopping in 63 locations in 24 cities to give folks (and car journalists like me, who saw it at their final stop in NYC) a chance to check out the car. With it's 100 mile-per-charge range and cute-but-not-challenging style, most people were understandably positive.

The Nissan team asserts that the LEAF, and electric cars in general will be "more convenient than gas," but there were skeptics in the audience of the NYC event. One woman asked about how to charge the car if you lived in an apartment and parked on the street (like many do in Manhattan and the five boroughs of NYC, as well as in other cities like Boston, LA, and Chicago). The answer? If that's your situation, the first version of this car probably isn't for you, said Carlos Tavares, chairman of Nissan Americas. Fair enough, we're talking about 'fuelling' a car in a totally new way and that will require changes in both infrastructure and behavior. The car will need to be charged at home, using a hookup to your local electric provider or at a public station (more on that below).

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And what about price? Though the official cost to lease or buy the car isn't going to be disclosed until April, the car is going to come with lithium-ion batteries (some have conjectured that in the case of electric cars, batteries and cars might be sold/leased separately). For the LEAF, battery and car will come as a package whether leased or purchased.

According to Tavares, the cost to lease or buy will be close to that of a Civic, with the caveat that the price would be comparable to that of a Civic PLUS what it would cost in gas to drive the car (fueling up with electricity will be 1/4 to 1/10 of the price of filling up with gasoline, depending on electric rates). Meaning that the cost of the car will be higher initially, but that it will pay for itself in fuel savings over time. That, paired with a $7500 federal tax credit should make the price reasonable.

One would need a special charging station attached to the home electric meter, of course, something that the federal government is also going to offset, according to Nissan execs, to the tune of a tax refund for "half the cost of installation." Partnerships with city and state governments from Cali to Massachusetts are set to provide public charging stations to make away-from-home recharge available.

Wondering why the car is called LEAF? As the old-school car journalist deadpanned behind me, "Because leaves are green! Sheesh."

Reservations for the LEAF will begin in April and orders will be taken in August. Until then you can check Nissan's site for more information on the LEAF.

Check out the competition in this slideshow of all the upcoming electric cars from manufacturers large and small.

All images by Starre Vartan