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USA: Plug-in Vehicles Proliferate

Full battery-electric and hybrid-electric plug-in vehicles will start hitting the streets in significant numbers later this year

Do you own a plug-in car? Do you even know anybody who does? Probably not. But that might very well change this year. Electric cars aren’t new, of course. Mitsubishi’s all-electric i-MiEV has been available in several countries since 2010. The US $35 200 Nissan Leaf, another pure electric vehicle, has been selling in Japan and the United States for more than a year. The Chevy Volt is also available in America, as is the Tesla Roadster, a $109 000 toy for the rich.

And yet, despite the intense press coverage and feverish anticipation, relatively few of these cars have found their way into garages and driveways. In 2012, however, a big influx of plug-in cars will help these vehicles start shedding their novelty image and in some places may even justify the construction of public charging stations [see “State of Charge,” in this issue].

By the end of 2012, for example, Toyota will introduce no fewer than three new plug-in models, and Ford and Volvo will both have their first-ever plug‑in electrics in showrooms. Nissan and General Motors will ramp up production of the Leaf and the Volt as well. Nissan aims to produce about 4000 Leafs per month at its plant in Oppama, Japan. Capacity will rise by another 150 000 cars annually when modifications to Nissan’s assembly plant in Smyrna, Tenn., are completed later this year, the company says. And Nissan projects that further production increases in 2013 will bring the total to about a quarter million cars a year, which is on par with the number of Volkswagens of all types sold in the United States. If Nissan achieves that kind of volume, the Leaf will have truly broken out of its niche, becoming the Prius of pure electrics.
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