Nissan Leaf enthuses dealers

Nissan Leaf enthuses dealers

April 6th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Customers Renee Wright, left, and Josh Ridings look at a Nissan Leaf, a zero-emission electric car, in the showroom of Mountain View Nissan. The dealership has taken delivery of two of the vehicles, and has a waiting list of customers to buy them when more come in. Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press


* Price: About $35,000

* Battery power: Lithium-ion

* Range: 100 miles on a charge

* Top speed: 90 miles per hour

* Federal tax credit: $7,500

Source: Nissan, Mountain View Nissan

The first wave of the new all-electric Nissan Leaf is hitting Chattanooga's streets.

Mountain View Nissan has taken delivery of a couple of the five-seaters and more will arrive in coming months, said Don Thomas, its dealer-principal.

"They're on the cutting edge," he said about the zero-emission car.

Chattanooga auto dealer Ken Hunt said Hunt Nissan has about a dozen cars in the pipeline with its first deliveries slated for this month.

"We've got four charging stations with all the training, tools and investment that has taken," he said.

Scott Brooks, a spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority, said the federal utility is obtaining two Leafs from Mountain View.

He said TVA is working with Nissan on infrastructure development to support the technology and understand its challenges.

"As such, we will use the vehicles to do research, which will include assessing the charging impacts of electric vehicles on TVA and distributor systems, testing the charging equipment, and exploring possible applications of the vehicles in the TVA fleet," Brooks said.

TVA plans are to take the Leafs on the road to demonstrate and display them at events around the region, he said.

The car has been slow to roll out in the United States partly because Nissan has allocated much of its inventory to the Japanese market to take advantage of big incentives that ended Thursday, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Austin Watson, Mountain View's executive manager, said plans are to deliver three more Leafs this month and nine in May.

Rising gas prices are expected to spur demand, officials said, though production in Japan is facing some uncertainty because of the earthquake and tsunami in March.

"The first wave was not affected," Watson said. "The second and third waves - we'll have to see."

Thomas said the dealership has a 30-person waiting list. The Leaf is aimed at companies, entities such as TVA and people who drive fewer than 40 miles to work, he said.

"It's not for everybody," Thomas said.

But with gas prices soaring, Watson said the car is launching at "the perfect time." He said that with future technology developments, he expects to see the Leaf's range to double or triple on a charge.

Mike Gondek, the dealership's service manager, said Mountain View Nissan has charging stations for the Leaf's battery pack, and the DoubleTree Hotel on Chestnut Street in March installed a commercially available site.

More public stations are coming both in the city and the Chattanooga-Nashville-Knoxville triangle. The U.S Department of Energy has hired a company, San Francisco-based Ecotality, to install 14,775 chargers in Tennessee and four other states. Some 2,475 chargers are to be installed in the Tennessee triangle, according to the company.

Nissan plans to produce the Leaf in Smyrna, Tenn., in 2013.

TVA is still determining how many Leafs to buy, Brooks said. The utility paid retail list price for its first two, he said.