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(photo by Steve Parker)

Two weeks ago, in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Nissan officially launched their five-passenger Leaf electric car to the American media and public. We were there getting the latest info on what will most likely be the first mass-produced EV family car sold in the U.S. 

The events brought out Nissan/Renault chief Carlos Ghosn, numerous company public relations people, various engineering-types and even vice president of Nissan Design America, Bruce Campbell, who had a hand in styling the car, inside and out.

Nissan’s huge, worldwide PR campaign for Leaf, based around a nationwide tour of the car which started recently, is becoming a model of non-news news which, because the car is so unique, almost guarantees media coverage of anything Leaf-related.

For instance, few if any of the Leaf’s specifications have changed since first announced months ago. The company still says Leaf will have a 100-mile range, will be recharged through 110-volt home power in eight hours, while using a 220-volt “fast charger” can refill the lithium-ion batteries to 80 percent of their capacity in a half-hour, and that a 10-minute charge at a public charging facility can add about 31 miles to the car’s range.

The 300-pounds of battery packs are installed under the Leaf’s floor, allowing designers to make the most of interior space. There’s an electric motor driving the front wheels using half-shafts. Though Nissan says it’s a five-passenger hatchback, the rear seat seems large enough for two full-sized adults at most. The instrument panel is futuristic, as expected, and Nissan says the LED headlights and rear lamps use only half the energy of conventional auto lighting.

No pricing announcement has been officially made, but near-$27,000 sounds about right. Ghosn told me the other night that the car will be “priced competitively” with cars of similar size, but in reality there is currently no comparable car sold anywhere in the world.

With (probably) unintended irony, the Leaf launch was held in Bergamot Station. The Bergamot facility dates back to 1875 when it was built as a stop for the Pacific Electric Red Line trolley running from Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Pier.

The Bergamot event offered a (probably) unintended statement that electric-powered transportation is hoped to be returning to Southern California, at least, in a big way.

Ghosn told me at the launch that Leaf sales will begin in Japan at the end of 2010, and by 2012 the car will be produced in England and near Nissan’s U.S. headquarters in Smyrna, Tenn. The company has borrowed $1.6 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy to revamp one of their Tennessee plants to manufacture the Leaf. The first Leafs (Leaves?) sold in the U.S. will be imported from Japan.

I asked Ghosn if Nissan would be developing gas/electric hybrids; the hybrid Altima sold in the U.S. uses Toyota technology. He told me that for certain markets hybrids make sense and his company will stay involved.

“But,” he said, “there already is a leader in hybrids (Toyota). In just 10 years hybrids have become 2 percent of the market, a remarkably fast rate of growth. But with Leaf, Nissan is now the leader in EVs.”

He expects EVs to be 10 percent of the world auto marketplace by 2020; Renault is expected to release its own version of Leaf within a year or two of Nissan’s EV going on sale. Ghosn said that Nissan will continue to develop EVs and wants to have several EV models available for sale within the next five to 10 years.

 

 Steve Parker is a two-time Emmy Award-winner who has covered the world’s auto industry and motor racing for over 35 years. He created, writes and moderates the only all-automotive blog on The Huffington Post at www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-parker. Parker hosts live one-hour automotive and motor racing call-in radio shows each Saturday and Sunday at 5 p.m. on www.TalkRadioOne.com (free podcasts of Steve’s previous shows also posted on that site). Contact Steve through his own automotive issues Website at www.SteveParker.com.