The first Tennessee-made Nissan Leafs are hitting dealerships, and changes in price, recharging, and range are expected to boost the all-electric's sales in 2013 over last year, proponents say.
"I do anticipate sales to pick up," said Joel Fort, Mountain View Nissan's Leaf sales leader, adding that the dealership received its first 2013 all-electric vehicle about three weeks ago.
Nissan's Smyrna, Tenn., facilities earlier this year started producing the Leaf in place of Japan. The company's Decherd, Tenn., factory is making the electric motor.
The 2013 Leaf, the Chevrolet Volt and propane and natural gas-fueled vehicles rolled into the city Thursday as part of a "road show" supported by the industry and green groups.
Drawing a lot of attention was a new fast charger by Efacec, which can renew an electric car's batteries in 20 to 30 minutes.
Mike Anderson of Efacec said the units are already in use in Chicago, where a charge costs about $7 for 30 minutes.
"It's a huge convenience factor," he said, noting the amount is more expensive than what it typically costs to recharge an electric vehicle at home.
Sales for electric and hybrid-electric cars have been underwhelming so far. About 9,800 Leafs were sold in the U.S. last year, up less than 2 percent over 2011. The hybrid Volt sold 23,400 in 2012.
Nissan has announced the new Leaf S will start at $28,800, which undercuts the previous least expensive Leaf by $6,400. There's also a $7,500 in federal tax credits available to buyers and people who lease the vehicle.
An optional 6.6-kilowatt charger also can help speed up recharging times, according to Fort.
In addition, a new heating system doesn't drain the batteries as fast as in prior years, and the higher-priced model features leather seats, he said.
Fort said use of the quick charger along with increased installations of those units will help sales by reducing so-called range anxiety.
Nissan said that range higher than the 2012 model's 73 miles is expected in the 2013 version.
Kristy Keel-Blackmon of the East Tennessee Clean Fuel Coalition said early sales of all-electric cars are similar to the hybrids, which have now become mainstream. She added, however, that not every alternative fuel vehicle is a fit for a driver or business.
Jonathan Overly, the Coalition's executive director, said there needs to a business case for companies which buy alternative fuel vehicles.
"On a business level, it can't be green unless it's black," he said.
The Tennessee Alternative Fuel Roadshow Tour will hit other major cities in the state during the rest of March.