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Nissan Offering Free Leaf Charges to Lift U.S. Battery Car Sales

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April 17 (Bloomberg) -- Nissan Motor Co., after best-ever U.S. sales of Leaf hatchbacks in 2013, plans to offer two years of free public charging for the battery-powered car in its strongest U.S. markets to entice more drivers to buy one.

Starting July 1, Nissan will issue EZ-Charge cards to people who buy or lease new Leafs in 10 markets: San Francisco; Sacramento; San Diego; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Nashville; Phoenix; Dallas-Fort Worth; Houston and Washington, Nissan said yesterday at the New York International Auto Show. Another 15 U.S. cities will be added to the promotion in 2015, Nissan said, without identifying them.

“Public charging is an important way to provide added range confidence to EV buyers and persuade more shoppers to join the more than 110,000 LEAF drivers around the world,” Fred Diaz, Nissan’s senior vice president for U.S. sales, said in an interview yesterday.

The promotion expands a test program Yokohama, Japan-based Nissan began offering to Leaf buyers in Texas last year, and takes a page from Tesla Motors Inc., which offers free fast recharges for life to customers who buy its luxury Model S electric sedan. Nissan’s new EZ-Charge card program will be managed by NRG Energy Inc.’s eVgo charge network, and include use of ChargePoint, CarCharging’s Blink and AeroVironment networks public chargers.

Nissan didn’t provide details on how much the program will cost the company.

Leaf Record

Nissan and other automakers delivered a record number of hybrid and rechargeable cars and light trucks in the U.S. last year as the industry remained under pressure to boost fuel efficiency. Still, Nissan has had to reduce the price of the Leaf and improve its range and features to attract more buyers for a car that averages less than 84 miles (135 kilometers) per charge.

U.S. sales of the Leaf more than doubled last year to 22,610 vehicles, and were up more than 46 percent in this year’s first quarter to 5,184, a record for the period.

“We’re basically seeing, month on month, that we’ve got traction now. It’s not niche anymore,” Andy Palmer, Nissan’s chief planning officer, said in an interview yesterday in New York. “I would expect without a doubt more records,” he said, declining to set U.S. or global volume targets.

Separately, the carmaker debuted revamped versions of the Murano crossover and Versa compact sedan yesterday in New York.

Nissan’s North American unit is based in Franklin, Tennessee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net Niamh Ring