Dealers excited about electric runabout coming yearend

As Nissan readies mass production of its first electric car, the Leaf, officials of area dealerships said they are excited to pioneer a market in the auto industry.

"We are definitely excited about it coming, and the Chattanooga/Knoxville area will be one of the first to have it," said Austin Watson, executive manager of Mountain View Nissan in Chattanooga. "It's a path that no one's gone down, Nissan is one of the first -- and I am glad."

Ken Hunt, owner of the city's Hunt Nissan who drove a prototype, predicted it will sell well.

"It's not going to be good for everyone -- if you had to drive more than 100 miles -- but it may be good for a second family car," he said, adding that those with short work commutes also benefit.

The Leaf hits the American market in December as a model year 2011 vehicle, with U.S. mass production beginning in 2012.

The Leaf is being built in Oppama, Japan, and Nissan's plant in Smyrna, Tenn., will also be manufacturing the vehicle. Nissan is using a loan from U.S. Department of Energy to fund its expansion, said Mark Perry, director of product planning for Nissan.

"It's another billion-dollar investment for the state. We've always had a significant footprint in Tennessee and are glad to bring more jobs," he said.

Plans are under way to break ground for the plant's expansion later this year and at its capacity the plant will produce 150,000 vehicles and 200,000 battery packs, he said.

Statewide, 50 fast-charging stations will be installed based on consumer travel patterns, where drivers will be able to charge their cars from zero to 80 percent in 26 minutes, Mr. Perry said. The first 900 customers in Tennessee who purchase the Nissan Leaf and agree to participate in a survey will receive a free home-charging station, he said.

5 THINGS TO KNOW ABO UT NISSAN LEAF* 50,000 -- The number of cars Nissan expects to produce globally in the first year* 90 -- Maximum speed mph* 100 -- Miles that can be traveled on a full charge* 4-8 -- Hours it takes to charge on a home 220V home-charging unit* 5 -- Years of battery lifeSource: Nissan's Web site and company representative

Though a price for the car has not been announced, Nissan expects it to be similar in price to a family sedan, according to its Web site. On average family sedans range from $20,000-30,000, according to

Although hesitant to offer projections on how much revenue the Leaf may generate, dealers said they're preparing for its arrival.

"We are excited about any product that gets better fuel mileage and fewer emissions," said Joey Kelley, executive manager of Pye Nissan in Dalton, Ga. "We just wish we had 10 to sell today."

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