Nissan has said for over a year that the upcoming all-electric Leaf would cost somewhere in the $20,000 to $30,000 range -- and the company did it.
The Leaf will sell for $32,780 before incentives, the company announced today. A federal tax credit of $7,500 brings the effective price down to $25,280. And if you add in state tax incentives, such as the $5,000 incentive in California, the effective price dips below $20,000. Leasing plans begin at $349 a month. The price includes the battery -- Nissan sells the complete car for that amount.
The car will only be available in select locations this year, but it will go nationwide in 2011. Consumers can put a reservation down April 20. It costs $99 to get on the waiting list, but that fee is refundable. Nissan says it will produce 50,000 cars the first year and start making the cars in U.S. factories in 2012.
At that price, the Leaf could become the first all-electric, general-purpose, mass-market car in years. Tesla Motors has been selling Roadsters for over a year, but they cost more than $100,000. General Motors and Toyota and others put out all-electrics in the late '90s, but the cars were leased and taken off the market relatively quickly. Nissan, this time around, seems more committed. The technology has improved greatly since then (the batteries in the Leaf are lithium ion, after all, unlike the earlier all-electrics) and Nissan needs a breakthrough. A success with the Leaf and other all-electrics could help it gain share at the expense of Honda and Toyota. Renault Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has said that 10 percent of its cars will be all-electric by 2020. (See pictures of Renault's other electric cars from the Frankfurt Auto Show here.)
Other companies are readying all-electrics and plug-in hybrids for 2010 and 2011 too: General Motors (plug-in hybrid), Ford (electric, then plug-in hybrids), Toyota (plug-in hybrid) Fisker Automotive (plug-in hybrid), Coda Automotive (all-electric). Price, performance, fit and finish, word-of-mouth marketing will determine the winners and losers.
How much money will Nissan make on the Leaf? That's hard to say. The core of the car is a lithium polymer battery developed by Nissan and NEC. "It is lithium manganese in a gel," is how Mark Perry, director of product planning at Nissan, has described it.
Right now, lithium ion batteries for cars cost around $900 per kilowatt hour. The Leaf has a 24 kilowatt hour battery. Under that math, a Leaf battery--if it were more like a regular electric car battery--should cost around $21,000. A battery is a third of the price of an electric car. Thus, the Leaf, if it had an ordinary battery, should cost closer to $60,000.
However, if Nissan has dropped the price to $500 a kilowatt hour, and rumors say the company is already close to that, the battery pack only costs about $12,000. At that price, Nissan won't be subsidizing the price of the car all that much, if at all, at the start. And of course, battery prices drop over time. Next year, some believe that standard car batteries should cost closer to $500. EnerDel CEO Charles Gassenheimer told us last week that his company can produce auto batteries now for less than $700 a kilowatt hour now.
Nissan and NEC have been working on this battery for years. Thus, Nissan might not be making money on initial Leafs, but it's very close and could start selling the cars for a profit soon. In other countries, like Israel, Nissan Renault will sell cars and lease the battery in conjunction with Better Place.
AeroVironment will sell home charging stations to go along with the car.