Nissan Leaf in Walnut Creek

The Nissan Leaf on display in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Nov. 24, 2009.

The national tour for the all-electric Nissan Leaf continues to make its way across the country. We were able to see the five-seat 100-mile-range car yesterday in Walnut Creek, California—a few days before it arrives at the 2009 San Francisco International Auto Show. This gave us an opportunity to confirm a few key points, and discover one or two others.

  • Priced Like Fully Loaded Prius

    The Nissan Leaf’s price—still not official—will be “about the same as a fully loaded Toyota Prius,” which means low-$30,000s. Only one package will be available, also fully loaded. No leather seats; the standard package features seats made from eco-friendly materials. (The Leaf is expected to qualify for a $7,500 tax credit.)

  • Battery Leasing

    No definite word yet on battery leasing, but it looks likely. In other words, a portion of the purchase price will come off the top, and be financed in a lease to cover the 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack. The goal is to alleviate consumer concerns about battery longevity. If anything goes wrong with the leased battery, Nissan owns it—so the company replaces it. At the end of the lease, you can upgrade to a better battery, if it’s available at that time.

  • Pre-Order in February. Wait for a Year.

    Pre-orders, with a “modest” deposit, will begin about February 2010. The first 5,000 cars go to the five markets participating in a Department of Energy project: Phoenix/Tucson, San Diego, Portland/Salem/Eugene (OR), Seattle, Nashville/Knoxville. Folks in other market will wait for their car to arrive in 2011. At that point, customers with deposits will take their first test drive, and decide whether or not to complete the transaction.

  • Dramatic Lighting

    When viewed up close and personal, the design of the prototype on tour—one of only two in the world—is gorgeous. The most prominent features are the curved vertical strip of LED-powered taillights, and the prominent raised headlights—designed to reduce wind noise and resistance by splitting and redirecting airflow away from the windows.

  • State-of-Charge Indicator Lights

    Three small charge-indicator lights on the top of the dashboard allow drivers to quickly glance at the car from the outside to see the state of charge—roughly one-third, two-third, or full (based on the number of lights). That’s an extremely convenient and useful feature.

  • Inconvenient Spot for 110-volt Charging

    The charging port at the nose of the car allows for 220-volt and 440-volt rapid charging. But what about so-called “opportunity charging” from a standard 110-volt source? It’s possible, but the inlet is on the underbelly of the vehicle near the rear right wheel. Full-charge time at 220V is four to eight hours, while the 110V is 16 to 18 hours. So, the 110V is not the ideal choice, but the awkward location will require you to reach under the car.
    Correction – Dec. 1: The same port that handles 22-volt charging will accommodate 110-volt charges.

That’s all for now, until we get a chance behind the wheel of the Leaf mule next week. Stay tuned.