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Nissan's Electric Leaf set for production
Nissan Motor Co. has collected nearly 20,000 pre-orders for an all-electric Leaf car that it plans to start selling in the United States and Japan in December.

"The production for 2010 is already sold out," said Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan and its French partner and shareholder Renault SA.

Nissan has gathered 13,000 pre-orders from prospective American buyers who paid a $100 refundable deposit, and 6,000 pre-orders in Japan, Ghosn said. The automaker will start taking firm orders in August.

Speaking before the Detroit Economic Club, Ghosn said the nearly 20,000 hand-raisers were individuals, not fleet buyers.

The battery-powered Leaf, expected to cost around $25,000 after U.S. federal and state incentives for clean car purchases, is the first of several electric cars that Renault and Nissan will market globally. By 2013, they expect to sell a combined 500,000 electric cars under the Renault, Nissan and Infiniti brands.

Some industry analysts and executives at rival companies question whether the market is ready for all-electric vehicles without a back-up gas engine, but Ghosn shrugged off their views.

"We're not questioning ourselves. We're already in it," he told reporters after his speech to the Economic Club. "The more we advance into it, the more we feel comfortable with it."

Ghosn travels to Tennessee for a ground-breaking today of a battery plant at Nissan's Smyrna facilities, funded with the help of a $1.4 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Leaf also will be produced in Tennessee, which is home to Nissan's new U.S. headquarters.

"Nissan has gone from being a company that's not known for electrification to having the first" of a new generation of affordable, battery-electric vehicles, said Daniel Cheng, a Southfield-based partner at consultant A.T. Kearney. "Electric vehicles are something everyone's doing."

Toyota Motor Corp. said Thursday it would invest $50 million in electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors Inc. Toyota said it would develop an electric car with Tesla, which already sells an electric roadster priced at more than $100,000.

"It's not a surprise," Ghosn said, when asked about the deal. "We're going to see a lot of carmakers getting into electric cars, with or without partners."

Nissan is rolling out the Leaf slowly, and will make it available initially only in select markets with charging infrastructure.

Ghosn said Nissan doesn't want to sell Leaf cars to customers who wouldn't be able to charge it easily, and might be disappointed.

Asked whether his medium-term sales forecast might be over-optimistic, he said Renault had orders for more than 100,000 electric cars from customers in Denmark and Israel, where Renault has teamed up with Palo Alto, Calif.-based battery and services provider Better Place.

Half a million vehicles may seem like a lot, Ghosn said, but account for less than 1 percent of annual vehicle sales worldwide.

Polls in Europe show that up to 10 percent of respondents in some countries say they want electric cars, he said. Detroit News

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