Tax credits, rebate checks, personalized home visits, government giveaways — even customer service calls from top corporate executives.
The first all-electric car from a major auto company, the Nissan Leaf, arrives at dealerships in December, but thousands of Americans are already learning that going electric can come with perks like no other car purchase.
“It just keeps getting better and better,” said Justin McNaughton, among the 20,000 people who have reserved a Leaf. “My wife thinks it’s funny because at the end of the day, we’re just buying a car.”
Since McNaughton, a lawyer in Nashville, Tenn., paid his $99 deposit, he has been bombarded with government incentives — promises of a $7,500 federal tax credit, a $2,500 cash rebate from the state of Tennessee and a $3,000 home-charging unit courtesy of the Energy Department.
When he had some basic questions about the Leaf, the answers came in a 40-minute telephone call from a senior manager in Nissan’s corporate planning department.
“You kind of feel like you’re one of the chosen people,” McNaughton said.
Precisely. It is all part of an unprecedented effort by federal, state and local governments to stimulate demand for cars that have zero tailpipe emissions — and Nissan’s pre-emptive bid to corner the all-electric market much the way that Toyota dominated the early hybrid market with the Prius.
The government subsidies are shaving thousands of dollars off the Leaf’s $32,780 sticker price, while other benefits are piling up, like free parking in some cities and the use of express lanes on highways usually reserved for cars with multiple passengers. In Tennessee, where a Leaf assembly plant is being built, Leaf drivers will be able to charge their vehicles free at public charging stations on 425 miles of freeways that connect Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.
“It’s almost shocking how many subsidies are available on the Leaf,” said Jeremy P. Anwyl, chief executive of the auto research website Edmunds.com. “We are putting a lot of money behind this technology.”
Nissan expects the typical Leaf buyer to fit a highly desirable demographic: affluent, college-educated consumers in their mid-40s who are both environmentally sensitive and willing to take a chance that electric technology will be as safe and reliable as internal combustion engines.
Better still, about 85 percent of the people who have reserved a Leaf do not currently own a Nissan, giving the brand exposure to a new audience. Interest in the car has been so great that the company has stopped taking reservations for the initial production run — the Leaf is being built in Japan, with assembly at the new plant in Tennessee beginning in 2012 — but Nissan has plans to sell as many as 500,000 electric cars worldwide by 2013.
The Obama administration has made electric vehicles a centerpiece of its drive to reduce the nation’s reliance on oil and is pumping up subsidies with a goal of getting 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015.