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All Electric Cars Are Not The Same: Volt vs. LEAF

Nissan will miss its 2012 goal of selling 20,000 LEAFs in the U.S. It doesn't look like Nissan will even hit 10,000 this year. Meanwhile, production capacity in 2013 and 2014 is being ramped up in Japan, the U.S. and the U.K. to manufacture 400,000 LEAFs per year. Where on Earth these will all be sold is highly unclear to me, but at this pace most of them will not be absorbed in the U.S., certainly by 2013.

2. Product quality has been questioned.

When the LEAF was unveiled in September 2009, Nissan spoke of 100-mile range in this all-electric car. Then right before the first car was delivered in late 2010, the EPA had certified an average range of 73 miles.

In the almost two years since, many LEAF owners report seeing the battery capacity fall by more than 10% in short order, and as much as approximately 25% after little more than a year's worth of driving. If the average range is only 73 miles to begin with, cutting 10% to 25% can become a huge problem for most owners.

Furthermore, if the loss is 10% to 25% already, what will the situation be 8 or 10 years from now? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to imagine that LEAF owners fear they'll be sitting on a relative paperweight before long.

3. Some customers are unhappy.

One week ago, a class action lawsuit was filed against Nissan. Among the claims are that Nissan sold the LEAF under false pretenses, not warning against this dramatic fall in battery capacity after such a short time of ownership.

Another claim in this class action lawsuit is that Nissan tells its customers to charge the car only to 80% of full capacity, further reducing the range. If true, this would be like Coca Cola (COKE - Get Report) selling you a can of Coke, and then after the purchase telling you to not drink more than 80% of the can because it will injure you. As a consumer, you would feel cheated.

I spoke to multiple LEAF owners who expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the way Nissan handled these issues. They claim Nissan is stonewalling them when Nissan should really do the right thing and simply buy back the cars, no questions asked. Nissan clearly has a PR nightmare on its hands at this point.

In the meantime, almost every Volt owner I have met has become one of GM's most effective salesmen, putting a Volt in the driveway of as many people as they can persuade.

Lesson learned: All electric cars are not the same.

At the time of publication the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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