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One million is Ghosn's magic number for EV sales

TOKYO -- One million. Call it Carlos Ghosn's magic number.

That's how many electric vehicles Nissan Motor Co.'s CEO says he needs to sell annually to generate a sticker price that is competitive without government subsidies.

Ghosn offered the calculation during a speech at a Tokyo business conference this week, just two months before the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle goes on sale in the United States and Japan.

Volume is key to bringing down the cost of electric cars. Expensive lithium ion batteries can jack the price of a compact-sized car into the lower tier luxury range. Indeed, Nissan and other electric vehicle hopefuls are counting on government subsidies to make them affordable.

The U.S. version of the Versa-sized, five-seat Leaf is priced at $32,780, for example, but a $7,500 federal tax credit will mean a net price of $25,280, without destination charges.

Hit 1 million in sales, Ghosn reasons, and he wouldn't need the government's largess.

Yet, even by Nissan's optimistic worldview, 1 million Leafs is a pretty tall order.

Nissan has allocated only 20,000 Leafs to U.S. dealers next year. And with production ramped up on three continents in 2012, the company still envisions global production capacity of only 200,000 units. After that, it could be a long, slow climb to the 1 million milestone.

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