Nissan Channels Tesla, Offers Free Leaf Charging in Texas

Nissan Motor Co., the most prolific electric-car maker, plans to offer free rapid charges for its battery-powered Leaf hatchback for new customers in Texas, experimenting with a strategy pioneered by Tesla Motors Inc.

Starting Oct. 1, people who buy or lease a new Leaf in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston will get unlimited free access for a year to public chargers operated there by NRG Energy Inc.’s eVgo unit, the companies said yesterday in a statement. The companies may expand the service to other markets depending on customer response, said Brian Brockman, a Nissan spokesman.

“It’s a pilot program, so we’ll want to see how it goes,” Brockman said by phone yesterday. “NRG has eVgo networks in other markets, and we have high hopes for this program.”

Nissan, along with alliance partner Renault SA, has become the world’s largest seller of autos powered solely by electricity. A pricing reduction this year and low-cost lease deals have helped U.S. Leaf sales more than triple through August to a record 14,123 units.

Tesla, the electric-car maker based in Palo Alto, California, is expanding its network of supercharger stations to repower its Model S luxury sedan. Customers who buy 85 kilowatt-hour-battery versions of the car, or an optional upgrade to the base model, are guaranteed free charges at the stations for life.

‘Medium-Sized Enticement’

The offer of free fuel for the Leaf will be an enticement for some buyers, “but I’d call it a medium-sized enticement,” said Jack Nerad, industry analyst and executive editor for Kelley Blue Book in Irvine, California.

“For the right person, near these charge stations, it could be a good thing and have some appeal,” Nerad said. “But it’s still striking me that in most instances, an electric car will mainly be a second or third vehicle for most people, because of the range limitations and how long it takes to charge them.”

The 2013 Leaf, built at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee, plant, averages 75 miles (121 kilometers) per charge. Repowering the car’s depleted lithium-ion battery pack takes about four hours from a 240-volt charger. EVgo’s direct-current fast chargers can repower the battery to 80 percent in 30 minutes, Brockman said.

The North American unit of Yokohama, Japan-based Nissan is in Franklin, Tennessee.