Nissan delivers 1st electric car in challenge to GM

* San Francisco-area tech entrepreneur is first customer

* To roll out in seven U.S. markets

By Braden Reddall

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 11 (BestGrowthStock) – Japan’s Nissan Motor Co
(7201.T: ) delivered the first mass-market all-electric car to a
technology entrepreneur in California on Saturday as the
company tries to get a jump in the nascent green vehicle race.

The first customer, Olivier Chalouhi, has been riding an
electric bicycle to work, and he plugged his new car in for the
cameras outside San Francisco City Hall. The charge point, one
of 400 in the region, had a green official city sign near it
that said, “Green Vehicle Showcase: Cars that make a
difference.”

The Leaf is one of a handful of mass-market fully electric
or extended range plug-in vehicles slated to reach consumers in
the next year.

The battery-powered Leaf, with an EPA-certified
battery-only range of 73 miles (120 km) is due to hit showrooms
this month in a limited roll-out — along with Chevy Volts by
General Motors Co (GM.N: ). Ford Motor Co (F.N: ) expects to
deliver its first electric Focus compact cars late next year.

Carlos Taveras, the North American head of Nissan, said his
company would focus on satisfying the first 20,000 Leaf
customers before opening up for more orders next year.

“We are not in a rush,” he told reporters, reasserting
Nissan’s plan to go straight to zero-emission cars, as opposed
to the Volt with its gasoline engine that can recharge the
battery to give it more range.

Work at Nissan’s Tennessee plant was under way to have
production capacity for 100,000 battery packs by early 2013,
Taveras said, though he told Reuters that was not an indication
of expected demand for the car.

The Leaf and Volt are seen as the spearheads of the
greening of automobiles. But gasoline and diesel-powered cars
with better fuel economy are seen as having more immediate
impact on lowering greenhouse gas, mainly because of their
greater numbers.

NO COMBUSTION ENGINE

California, the most populous U.S. state, is the biggest
market for conventional cars and is expected to be the biggest
one for electric vehicles as well. The fact the Leaf is
eligible for the California rebate, while the Volt is not, will
be a selling point for Nissan.

The Leaf is also set to be delivered to Oregon, Seattle,
Tennessee and Arizona, followed by Hawaii and Texas shortly
after that.

As a pure electric car, the Leaf tops the Volt in the
category on the EPA label that tracks greenhouse gas emissions
from the vehicle. Since it carries no combustion engine, the
Leaf has no such emissions, although greenhouse gases would be
produced by the power plants used to recharge the car.

The Leaf will be priced at about $32,780 before a federal
tax credit can bring the sticker price to about $25,280 and, in
California, a rebate that can reduce it to about $20,280.

Journalists named it the 2011 European Car of the Year, the
first electric vehicle to be chosen for the award.

Chevy’s Volt — named Green Car of the Year and Motor Trend
car of the year — is rated at 84 grams of carbon dioxide per
mile, less than one-tenth of the industry’s worst-performing
vehicle on that score.

The Volt is designed to run for 35 miles (56 km) on a full
charge of its 400-pound (181-kg) lithium-ion battery pack
supplied by a unit of Korea’s LG Chem (051910.KS: ). After that,
a 1.4-liter engine extends the driving range to about 379 miles
(610 km).

GM plans to build 10,000 Volts next year, 45,000 in 2012
and has begun discussing ways it could increase the production
should there be more demand.

Capturing the fuel-economy leadership from Toyota Motor
Corp’s (7203.T: ) hybrid Prius would give GM bragging rights it
has sought throughout the Volt development effort.
(Reporting by Braden Reddall; Writing By Alexandria Sage;
Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by
Peter Cooney)

Nissan delivers 1st electric car in challenge to GM