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Nissan's EV: The Leaf Shows its Colors

It's called the Leaf. As we know from high school science, leaves clean the air by filtering carbon dioxide. The Nissan Leaf doesn't do that, but it can claim zero emissions and no tailpipe.

Nissan unveiled its new battery electric vehicle over the weekend in Yokohama, Japan, with former EV skeptic (and Renault-Nissan Alliance CEO) Carlos Ghosn predicting that plug-in cars could command 10 percent of the market by 2020. And he pulled the sheet back on a midsized hatchback that gets 100 miles on an eight-hour 220-volt charge, and reaches a speed-governed 90 mph.

Here's a look at the Leaf on the road: There's more to the Leaf than just another car introduction. In other words, it's not just a car, it's a process. The Alliance is alone among major carmakers in also delving into the wide world of EV charging networks. Beginning in late 2010, the Leaf will be available in Japan, Europe and the U.S. (eventually in China, too) in those markets where the company has charging deals. In the U.S., these include the states of both Oregon and Tennessee, San Diego and the Bay Area in California, Seattle, Phoenix and Tucson, Washington, D.C. and Raleigh, North Carolina.

According to Mark Perry, a Nissan director of product planning, California already has 4,500 EV charging stations that need to be updated to the new global standard. And big-box stores, parking garages and fast-food retailers--such as a McDonald's outlet in Cary, North Carolina, are already being wired (as are eco-hotels, such as the Starwood Element Lexington in Massachusetts).

The car will be either leased or sold, but no pricing is yet available. Mr. Perry said that its Leaf will be well equipped, with navigation and remote features--such as pre-heat and cooling--that can be operated from a cell phone or computer. Owners will also be able to see their state of charge, and use a timer to start the charging process at, say, 11 p.m. That will be particularly advantageous if utilities lower their rates at night. "Some of our utility partners say they want to do that," Mr. Perry said.