Vince Bond Jr.
Vince Bond Jr.
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VINCE BOND JR.

Nissan's plan to get the East to embrace the Leaf

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The West Coast has always been a sweet spot for sales of the Nissan Leaf, one of the first EVs on the U.S. market -- and now that comfort is spreading east.

Nissan Motor Co. says the Leaf has been gaining traction in recent months in Missouri -- St. Louis specifically -- Virginia, Georgia and Washington, D.C.

Georgia, in particular, is laying out the red carpet.

The state's aggressive push to create a positive "EV lifestyle equation" is paying dividends in Atlanta, says Brendan Jones, director of electric vehicle infrastructure strategy for Nissan North America.

Jones says several deal sweeteners for prospective Leaf buyers are creating a favorable sales atmosphere in the state.

For instance, Georgia has a tax credit worth up to $5,000 for zero-emissions vehicles (the 2012 Leaf base model has a sticker price of $29,650, including shipping). The state also waives tolls for Leaf drivers in high occupancy vehicle lanes and some high occupancy lanes, Jones said during a conference call last week hosted by the Electric Drive Transportation Association.

Nissan is obviously excited about the Leaf's improving prospects east of the Mississippi River, but selling vehicles is only one step. Now it has to build loyalty by making the driving lives of Leaf owners as convenient as possible.

Nissan has sold 9,839 Leafs so far this year -- a 213 percent increase over the first half of 2012 -- and total U.S. sales since it went on the market in 2010 are now approaching 30,000. With this momentum, the automaker is looking to maintain the EV's momentum by bolstering public charging infrastructure.

Doing so will ease range anxiety among prospective consumers who are hesitant to take the EV plunge while also giving early adopters another reason to stay on board.

In Washington, Nissan is partnering with NRG Energy Services to install 40 DC fast charging units. NRG provides "energy-related operating and maintenance services for the power generation and industrial community," according to the company's Web site.

Jones said there are 265 DC fast charging units in the United States, and that Nissan wants to raise that number to 600 by the end of March 2014. The fast units can replenish 80 percent of a battery's charge in less than 30 minutes.

At the moment, around 70 percent to 80 percent of EV charging occurs in the home, according to Kevin Mull, vice president of business development/EV solutions of Bosch Automotive Service Solutions.

Jones says Nissan is taking a three-pronged approach to building up public charging infrastructure nationally.

The automaker wants to:

• Boost the number of Level 2 chargers in homes

• Increase community-based charging

• Push workplace charging by partnering with corporations such as Google.

There are about 12,000 Level 2 chargers right now in the United States in public and workplace domains, Jones said. Those units take several hours to recharge batteries as opposed to the much quicker fast chargers.

He said private investment will eventually fund the majority of public charging sites, which will be monetized. Jones still expects to see free public charging in some areas, but it won't be the dominant model.

"We need to continue to build range confidence in the consumer base. DC fast charging is going to be our primary methodology, but we'll continue to work to add more [Level 2 chargers] where they make sense such as garage infrastructures and other public facilities."

You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com. -- Follow Vince on Twitter

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