Nissan Motor Co., the world’s largest seller of electric vehicles, said it’s adding a lower-priced version of the rechargeable Leaf as production of the car begins in Tennessee.
For 2013 the company adds an entry level S grade Leaf that’s cheaper than the SV and SL models sold in the U.S. since late 2010, Nissan said in a statement today, without providing prices. All 2013 Leaf models have improved electric range, and recharge time for SV and SL grades falls to four hours from a 220-volt outlet from about seven hours currently, Nissan said.
“The refinements and enhancements for 2013 hit at the core of customer requests during Leaf’s first two years,” Al Castignetti, Nissan’s vice president of U.S. sales, said in the statement. Those include faster charger time, better range and optional leather seats and high-end audio systems, he said.
Nissan is trying to boost U.S. sales of the battery-powered hatchback that have so far fallen short of the company’s ambitions. Leaf deliveries to U.S. drivers grew 1.5 percent in 2012 to 9,819, less than half of Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn’s 20,000-unit target.
U.S. production of the car has begun at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee, plant. The Yokohama, Japan-based company late last year opened the largest lithium-ion battery plant in Smyrna, funded with a federal loan from the Obama administration worth as much as $1.4 billion.
Base prices for the 2012 SV and SL Leafs are $35,200 and $37,250, respectively, before a $7,500 federal tax credit. Nissan introduced a new Leaf to the Japanese market late last year that was priced 11 percent less than the previously cheapest one.
Range for the 2012 models averages 73 miles (117 km) per charge, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Pricing of the 2013 model Leafs is to be announced later, said Travis Parman, a company spokesman.
Nissan’s North American operations are based in Franklin, Tennessee.