By Jeff Gilbert

by Jeff Gilbert
WWJ AutoBeat Reporter

The electric vehicle era has arrived, with the Saturday delivery of the first Nissan Leaf, an all electric car with a potential range of 100 miles before it has to be recharged. This will be followed quickly by the first delivery of a Chevrolet Volt, setting off a high stakes competition in the electric vehicle segment.

“This is the new version of the auto enthusiast, and it’s around environmental technologies rather than horsepower,” said Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of the auto web site

Hear Jeff Gilbert’s Car Chronicles Test Drive of the Nissan Leaf.

The first Leaf owner is Oliver Chalouhi, a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, who was also the first person to put in a reservation for the vehicle. A press release issued by Nissan describes him this way.

  • Chalouhi, a 31-year-old entrepreneur is the founder of Fanhattan, a venture-backed stealth start-up in the connected TV space, where he serves as chief technology officer. He currently lives in Redwood City, Calif, with his wife, Jana, and their two children and holds a master’s degree in computer science from the French Aeronautical and Space School. Before purchasing his Nissan LEAF, Chalouhi commuted to work on an electric bicycle.

This Nissan LEAF delivery is the first of thousands and signifies the dawn of a movement that brings sustainable mobility to within our grasp.” said Carlos Tavares, Chairman, Nissan Americas, in a statement issued by Nissan.

Nissan will spend the week celebrating the first Leaf deliveries in California. That will be followed by sales in Arizona, Oregon, Seattle and Tennessee. The Leaf will be rolled out slowly, and will not be available in the entire country until the end of 2011.

“Nissan’s being very careful in the launch and the ramp up, because we want to make sure the quality’s perfect on these vehicles,” said Nissan North America product planning chief Larry Dominique.

There are big differences between the Leaf and the Chevy Volt. The Volt costs more, but also has an on board four cylinder gasoline engine. GM calls it a “range extender.” It provides electricity when the batteries wear down.

Because of this, the Leaf has almost twice as much electric range as the Volt. But the range extender allows the Volt to keep going indefinitely, while the Leaf has to be recharged.

Still, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn feels the environmental friendliness of an all electric car, outweighs the need for extended range.

“I told the engineers I don’t want gasoline in the car, period,” said Ghosn at an appearance before the Detroit Economic Club earlier this year. “I don’t want exhaust pipe, nothing. I want the car to be zero noise, zero emission, zero trouble, period!”

For now, analysts see electric vehicles a niche market, accounting for a small percentage of overall auto sales, until improvements in technology increase the range, and lower the price.

Jeff spent last weekend driving the Leaf. His live blog can be found here.


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