Electric Cars Ready to Take Center Stage

Electric Cars Ready to Take Center Stage

Will the electrical socket replace the pump as the filling station of the future for our cars? That's what Chevrolet and Nissan are counting on with the arrival of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and the 2011 Nissan Leaf at the end of this year. The Leaf and Volt represent the first ventures into mass consumer electric car production by major car makers. Previously, electric cars have been handicapped by high prices and limited practicality, but the Leaf and Volt combine a reasonable sticker price with the same utility customers have come to expect from their gas powered cars.

Both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf are plug-in charge vehicles, using electric motors to power the car instead of a traditional gas engine. Each car comes with an identical warranty for its battery components: 8 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.

The Nissan Leaf is a fully electric, five-door hatchback with seating for up to five passengers. It comes fitted with a 24kW lithium-ion battery pack, producing 107-horsepower and 208 pounds-feet of torque and powers the Leaf from 0-60 mph in less than 10 seconds and to a top speed of 90 mph. According to Nissan, the Leaf will have a range of 100 miles on a full battery.

The Leaf can be charged on 110-, 220-, or 440- volt power. Plugged into a regular 110-volt socket, the Leaf takes 20 hours to fully charge. A more appealing option is the in-house charger, which connects to an existing 220-volt socket and costs $2200 (half the cost will be covered by a federal tax credit and Nissan will allow you to roll the remaining costs into your monthly car payments). This station will fully charge the Leaf in seven hours. 440-volt "Quick Charge" stations will charge the Leaf's battery to 80 percent capacity in around 30 minutes, and Nissan is hopeful that such stations will be popping up across the country.

The Chevrolet Volt arrives as an electric vehicle with a range extender, and seats four passengers. Featuring an advanced battery/gasoline engine system with an 110kW lithium-ion pack, the Volt outputs up to 150-horsepower and reaches a top speed of 100 mph. The gasoline engine does not provide any power to the vehicle, acting only as a generator to recharge the battery. Chevrolet estimates that drivers will be able to run for 40 miles on a fully charged battery, after which the gasoline engine activates and recharges the battery as you continue to drive. While the gasoline engine is activated, mileage for the Volt is rated at an impressive 50 mpg.

This system gives the Volt a large advantage; it is not limited in terms of its range. When the batteries and fuel run out, you can stop at a service station and fill up like normal. The Volt takes 8-10 hours to charge from a normal 110-volt outlet, meaning that the installation of a 220-volt charging system might not be necessary for some customers (a 220-volt system is able to charge the Volt in four hours). Chevrolet is also offering five years of their OnStar roadside assistance package for free, with the purchase or lease of any Volt.

The Leaf has been priced at $32,780, and the Volt at $41,000. However, the Leaf and Volt each qualify for the largest federal tax credit offered which effectively knocks $7,500 off the MSRP. If you'd prefer to lease either of these vehicles, they are each available for $350/month for 36 months.

Both cars will be released in select locations. The Leaf will be offered initially in five states: California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Tennessee, with more to come in the next year. Nissan expects to have the Leaf available nationwide in the fall of 2011.

The Volt will also be undergoing a limited release at the start of its availability. Seven markets have been selected for the Volt's debut: California, New York, Michigan, Connecticut, Texas, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey. Chevrolet expects to ramp up production on the Volt, making it available nationwide within 12-18 months.

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