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Nissan's Un-be-Leaf-able Deal

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Last week, we surveyed the field of car companies striving to turn off the internal combustion engine for good. Today, we announce an early winner: Nissan (Nasdaq: NSANY  ) -- by a mile.

Japan's No. 3 automaker unveiled its new Leaf all-electric car Sunday, and folks, it looks good. A sporty, four-door hatchback with a recharging outlet hidden under the logo on the hood, this new car is designed to travel 100 miles on a single battery charge. Plenty 'nuff for ordinary daily commuting.

The Leaf goes on sale in Japan, Europe, and select U.S. states next year, with initial production rates pegged at 50,000 units annually. It could enter global mass production as early as 2012, with the help of a retooled Nissan plant in Tennessee that just received a $1.6 billion loan from the U.S. government to subsidize the effort.

Depending on how Nissan manages the rollout, therefore, we could see "Leaves" (Leafs?) falling here in the States as early as next year -- the same season that GM hopes to turn over a new corporate leaf with its Chevy Volt. Ford's (NYSE: F  ) all-electric Focus won't arrive before 2011. Meanwhile, hybrid pioneer Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) doesn't expect to begin selling all-electrics in the U.S. before 2012. (For its part, Honda (NYSE: HMC  ) seems to be focusing its non-hybrid "green" efforts on developing an electric motorcycle, due out in 2010. Look out, Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HOG  ) .)

While we're still waiting for an exact dollar figure out of Nissan, the range is getting tighter, with the company declaring that it will be "competitively priced in the range of a well-equipped C-segment vehicle," which is auto-speak for "small family sedan." In other words, that's somewhere in the $20,000-$30,000 range. One rumor has it that Nissan could apply a sticker price closer to that of the company's Versa model, roughly $15,000, to the Leaf. If true, such a price would undercut even Warren Buffett fave and Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A  ) (NYSE: BRK-B  ) vassal BYD, which plans to charge $22,000 for its F3DM.

If the rumored low pricing is true, the Leaf would undermine the $40,000 that GM wants for its Volt, and it would certainly work to keep Mitsubishi's nearly $50,000 i-MiEV from being a contender. And California-based Tesla? I know it's got fans here -- I read the comments on my last article. Even though it operates in a premium space compared to the Leaf, if the Model S is forced to compete against Nissan at anywhere from two to four times the Leaf's price, I fear Tesla's sales could wither on the vine.

Foolish takeaway
Nissan, you've got a real winner here. All you need to do now is not disappoint your customers by charging more than you've led them to expect.

Read more about your electric future in:

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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy wants a Chevy Volt for Christmas next year -- oh, and its two front teeth, too. And a Barbie doll. And a Dora the Explorer lunch box.

Berkshire Hathaway is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection and a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Nissan Motor is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway.

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  • Report this Comment On August 04, 2009, at 11:07 AM, kayakmastr wrote:

    Right now an all-electric car seems silly. It shifts the energy source from petroleum to coal and natural gas, so it doesn't address the climate change issue, but it does reduce the dependence on foreign oil. An all-electric car would certainly sense when most of our electricity is produced by solar and nuclear sources. What about cost? My estimate with electicity at $0.10 kwh and gasoline at $3.00/gal is that electricity costs about 50% more for the same amount of energy. Hybrids are a different story, they make use of the internal combustion engine more efficient and are a real winner.

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