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Nissan gets 56K pre-orders for Leaf EV, challenges Tesla

Nissan says it has more than 56,000 pre-orders for the Leaf, its fully-electric model set to be released to the mass market in 2012. Just last November, the Nissan-led Electrification Coalition lobbied the U.S. government to fund electric vehicle projects. CEO Carlos Ghosn plans to sell the Leaf to fleet first to operators like taxi companies and governments as well. By 2013, Nissan will build a half million Leaf vehicles globally, he told BusinessWeek.For the first time, it looks like Tesla Motors should be worried. Nissan’s manufacturing and buying power are already in place. The company also plans to have it’s EV on the market two years before Tesla brings its more affordable Model S to market. The Leaf will cost around $25,000, while the Model S will be priced over $50,000. When the Leaf is released, it will be in a class of one: the entry-priced electric, if you will. And in the luxury segment, Tesla will soon have the likes of Audi to contend with.

The French government is interested in electrifying 100,000 of its vehicles. No papers have been signed. But there seems to be only two realistic candidates: Nissan or Norway’s Think Global. Think’s vehicle, called the City, costs about $50,000 without battery-leasing in Holland. In the U.S., it will be available for about $20,000, with an $80-a-month battery lease. Nissan’s Leaf is estimated to cost $25,000 to $35,000 with a $150/month battery lease in the U.S. So far, Think is ahead in pricing.

Of course, Nissan could drive down pricing as production scales up. Tesla (the Roadster’s chassis is built by Lotus) and Think (the City built by Valmet) are both specialty cars built at a low volume. Boutique cars, novelties. In the same way that Henry Ford’s assembly line and economy of scale made cars cheap enough for the middle class, Nissan might be able to mass produce electric cars and make them marketable to those looking for a regular car — not an icon.

Ghosn seems to have unbridled confidence in the Leaf. He challenged BusinessWeek saying, “You draw the conclusion. We are going to come wtih 500,000 globally.” With manufacturing capabilities far exceeding Tesla’s or Think’s, we’d have to say the conclusion is obvious: Nissan looks like an early winner in the pure EV market. What is uncertain is whether pure EVs are ready to compete with hybrids like the Volt, Prius or Fusion.

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