Leaf of faith: Nissan collects $650,000 from buyers who just want to be first

In three days, U.S. consumers gave $656,865 to Nissan for the chance to buy a Leaf electric sedan when it arrives in December.

Ain't capitalism grand.

Starting on Tuesday, April 20, consumers could pony up $99 for what was called a refundable reservation fee. By Friday morning, 6,635 would-be buyers had charged the fee to their credit cards.

For their money, they got…well, nothing, really.

This is not a deposit on the car. It doesn't count against the $32,780 sticker price.

Nor does it guarantee that the individual will be allowed to buy the car. Let's say the person who paid the fee can't get a home charging system installed, maybe because their local building code doesn't allow it. Or let's say Nissan reviews the individual's driving patterns -- information that must be submitted to buy the Leaf -- and then decides that the consumer's habits don't fit with the Leaf's limited range.

If either of those things happens in December, Nissan will refund what has been, in effect, an eight-month interest-free loan to the automaker.

I don't know if Nissan's big bet on electric vehicles will pay off over the long term. But the bean counters must love a car that can raise two-thirds of a million bucks in just three days -- from consumers who just want to be the first on their block to own one.

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