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Want an Electric Car? Be Prepared to Prove Your Case to Nissan

Posted: Apr 29, 2010 11:25 a.m.

The all-electric Nissan Leaf looks like a hit, if early reservations are any indication. Such a big hit, in fact, that Nissan may start evaluating buyers, and turning away some who don’t seem right for the car.

Autoblog reports, “Nissan has begun taking $99 registrations for its all-electric Leaf, and the early results are very encouraging. The Japanese automaker has reportedly already received 7,000 pre-orders in the U.S. and another 4,000 orders in Japan.” That’s more customers than Nissan had expected at this early point in the sales drive. The company only has the capacity to build about 20,000 of the cars this year. “Orders have been so strong that Nissan expects that it won't be able to fulfill demand for its emissions-free vehicle when it hits dealerships in late Fall.”

Because of the potential shortage, the company may begin turning away buyers. But it won’t be first-come, first-served. Nissan may, instead, screen buyers, and turn away those who don’t seem right for the car. 

Carlos Tavares, Nissan's chairman of the Americas, tells Automotive News, “We may tell the customer, 'Look, you'd be better off buying an Altima or a Sentra because your driving patterns are not ideal for this car.’” 

The Leaf, like all electric cars, has clear benefits, but certain limitations. Nissan says its range should be about 100 miles between charges. “Those logistics will be adequate for most daily driving needs, Tavares says.  But for customers who commute long distances every day or who have no home garage where they can install an electric recharger, the industry's first mass market electric vehicle might not be suitable.” 

Because the car may not be right for all buyers, Nissan is designing a multi-step process for those interested in a Leaf. The four steps, AN reports, are as follows:

1. Reserve: Customer makes refundable $99 deposit, gives Nissan information about driving habits and home electrical system

2. Home assessment: Electrician visits customer's house to estimate cost of wiring it for charging system

3. Charger installation: Customer is expected to pay about $1,100 to install vehicle charger

4. Order: Customer works out vehicle options, trade-in, purchase price with a Nissan dealer

The car itself (not including the charger) will carry an MSRP of $32,780, though a government tax rebate for buyers of zero-emissions cars will cut that amount by $7,500 for most buyers.

If you're in the market for a new car, check out the U.S. News rankings of this year's best cars as well as this month's best car deals.