By Tom Krisher, AP Auto Writer
DETROIT (AP) — Just over a decade ago, electric cars were expensive niche vehicles for gadget lovers and celebrities. Now, Nissan and General Motors are competing to sell the most affordable electric car to middle-class America.
The contest escalated Tuesday when GM announced it would start the Chevrolet Volt at $41,000. While it costs $8,000 more than the base price of Nissan's Leaf electric hatchback, GM is matching the $349-per-month lease deal that Nissan is offering on its car. Nissan Motor Co. countered by matching the Volt's eight-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty.
Both vehicles will cost more than a comparable gasoline-engine car when they hit showrooms this fall. But their lease deals are competitive with regular cars. That reflects the overall decline in the cost of the cars' technology over the past decade. Even if the automakers have to eat some of the costs, they can still afford to keep the Volt and Leaf within many families' budgets.
The average U.S. new-car payment is about $450, so most new-car buyers can afford a $350 lease, especially when they factor in what they won't pay for gas, said Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends at the car pricing website TrueCar.com. General Motors Co. said it would cost about $1.50 worth of electricity to fully recharge the Volt each night.
"The middle-income family in Ohio cannot afford $41,000 plus tax to get a Volt, Toprak said. "But $350 a month is within reach."
Lease and base sticker prices for both models are far lower than earlier electric cars. GM's EV-1, the first widely available electric car, was leased for $477 a month in 1996.
While celebrities such as Mel Gibson and Ed Begley Jr. touted the car's green appeal, GM had trouble getting most people to take the two-seat cars, which had a sticker price of roughly $44,000. The project was canceled after four years and only about 800 leases. One of the few broadly available electrics now on the road is the Tesla Roadster. But it costs $109,000, well out of reach of mainstream buyers.