Japan's Nissan Motor formally launched today its zero emissions Leaf vehicle, an electric car boasting a range of 124 miles and billed as the first of its type to be sold on a large scale.
Nissan is counting on an aggressive push into the nascent electric car market to boost its brand image--much as the Prius hybrid did for Toyota.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are considered a promising alternative to internal combustion engine cars as governments seek to cut the world's dependency on fossil fuels, but their relatively short range and high price challenge the industry.
"When you take the scale of their (Nissan's) commitment, it's a big bet," said Kurt Sanger, auto analyst at Deutsche Securities.
"The challenge for Nissan is to capitalize on its early lead and solidify in consumers' minds the perception that EVs equal Nissan," Sanger said, adding: "It's hard to find a car maker that's not planning an electric car over the next five years."
Nissan said the five-seater hatchback is rated with a range of 124 miles on a full charge under Japanese test standards, although Californian authorities have rated it at 100 miles and the Environmental Protection Agency at just 73 miles.
It comes with a suggested retail price of 3.76 million yen ($44,900), discounted to 2.98 million yen in Japan with government subsidies. In the United States, the Leaf will cost about $25,000 after a federal tax credit.
"With today's launch...we mark the start of a new era for the global auto industry as well as for a sustainable, low-carbon society," Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga, standing next to a sky-blue Leaf at Nissan's headquarters in the port city of Yokohama, told hundreds of journalists.
Delivery of the car will start in Japan and select U.S. states this month, followed by the first European markets in January. Nissan has already filled a maximum initial order for 6,000 Leafs in Japan and 20,000 units in the United States, set to reach customers over the next year or so.