Speaking at the Detroit Economic Club, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said that pre-orders for the new LEAF have already met the 20,000-unit first-year production limit. Over 13,000 of those came from U.S. customers who posted a refundable $99 deposit to get their names on a LEAF list while 6,000 more originated in Japan. While no more pre-registrations are being accepted, the situation could change a bit in August, when the formal ordering process begins and buyers (or lessees) will have to lock in their commitment. According to Ghosn, virtually all of the LEAF's early order clientele was comprised of individuals rather than fleet consumers.

The rollout plan for this pioneering electric vehicle (EV), which will see the first Japan-sourced production vehicles delivered this December in Arizona, California, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington, remains on schedule. However, Ghosn admitted that dealing with individual and municipal recharging infrastructure issues does remain a potential challenge. While this super-clean Nissan offering will be able to travel up to 100 miles on a single charge of its advanced lithium-ion battery pack, the "refilling" process can require anywhere from 30 minutes to 20 hours, depending on the system being used.

The following day, Ghosn presided over the groundbreaking of Nissan's new facility in Smyrna, Tennessee, that will start turning out lithium-ion battery packs starting in 2012. The battery plant -- and revisions to Nissan's existing Smyrna assembly operation -- will cost some $1.7 billion, with $1.4 billion of that investment coming in the form of a Department of Energy (DOE)-guaranteed loan. When both projects are completed, the battery plant will employ up to 1,300 workers and be capable of turning out 200,000 packs per year while the adjacent vehicle manufacturing facility will be able to build up to 150,000 EVs annually.

The industry's staunchest proponent of electric-powered vehicles, Ghosn reiterated Nissan's commitment to the cause of affordable, sustainable mobility. "What we're doing here will radically transform the automotive experience for consumers. Production of Nissan LEAF and lithium-ion batteries in Smyrna brings the United States closer to its goal of energy independence, creates green jobs and helps sustain American manufacturing."

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