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Originally published August 3, 2010 at 8:38 PM | Page modified August 3, 2010 at 8:38 PM

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Nissan takes Seattle for a test drive in its electric car

The Greater Seattle area is one of five regions that will receive the first Leafs.

Seattle Times Eastside reporter

The man driving a battered black Toyota did a double-take at the sight of the blue, four-door Nissan buzzing down 15th Avenue Northwest in Magnolia on Tuesday.

It's likely he had never seen a car like this before — with a distinctive, short curved hood and swoopy hatchback. But the most unusual thing about the Nissan Leaf was invisible: the engine, which runs on nothing but lithium-manganese batteries.

Mark Perry is used to seeing other drivers crane their necks at the sight of the Leaf, which Nissan calls the first highway-capable, mass-market electric car.

The car will be delivered to Puget Sound-area drivers in December, and Perry, director of product planning for Nissan, was in Seattle on Tuesday to show off a working model.

"All the major manufacturers have something in the wings" when it comes to electric cars, said Steven Lough, longtime president of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association and a former General Motors dealer. "So it's very much a sustained push this time."

The Greater Seattle area is one of five regions that will receive the first Leafs.

In October, even before the cars arrive, public and private electric charging stations will be installed around the area; about 1,000 stations are being funded by a federal Department of Energy grant.

About 1,000 additional charging stations will be installed for free in the garages and homes of drivers who agree to be part of a two-year DOE study on charging habits. The five-passenger Nissan Leaf, which was parked in the Palisade restaurant lot in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood Tuesday, drew questions from curious diners and from King County Executive Dow Constantine, who was invited for a test drive.

Here are the numbers:

• The car will cost $32,780, minus a federal tax credit of $7,500, and will be exempt from Washington state sales tax.

• It will cost about $2,200 to buy a home charger, 50 percent of which is covered by a federal tax credit.

• A 240-volt charger — that's the type of plug used by a clothes dryer — will fully charge the car in about eight hours. A regular 110-volt wall plug, the standard outlet size, will take 20 hours.

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• A fast-charging station will charge the battery in about 30 minutes. About 40 of them will be constructed in public places, starting this fall. The fast-charging stations cost about $35,000 to build, Perry said.

• The car gets about 100 miles per charge. At current Seattle electric prices of 6 cents per kilowatt hour, it will cost about $1.50 for a full charge.

Despite rumors to the contrary, the Leaf is not sold out, Perry said.

In the first year of production, Nissan will build 50,000 of the cars for global distribution.

About 1,300 Washington residents have put down a refundable deposit of $99 to reserve a Leaf.

"It's great — it drives really well," Constantine said after a test drive.

But, he said, the 100-mile range makes it impractical on some days, when county business takes him farther afield.

"I'd need to keep my other car."

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com

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