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Charging Up The Public: How To Market Battery Cars To An Uncertain Public

by on Jul.30, 2010

Leaf is a corporate statement. But will potential buyers understand Leaf's pros and cons?

As Nissan and Chevrolet prepare to launch their groundbreaking electric vehicles later this year, they face a huge task educating the public about just what they are – and aren’t.

Marketing a new car is always a challenge, and something that can cost a maker as much as $100 million for even a relatively conventional product.  Now add a battery drivetrain and the challenge – if not the cost – could go up exponentially.

The Nissan Leaf is a pure electric vehicle with a range of about 100 miles and. Nissan calls it the first mass-market electric vehicle – though some might quibble with that and point to the battery cars the industry tried to push in the early 1990s.

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The technology under the hood of the Chevy Volt is even more unusual. General Motors calls it an extended-range electric vehicle (rather than a plug-in hybrid, a difference a bit more than just semantics). The Volt can travel about 40 miles on a full charge. At that point, a small gasoline engine starts to provide up to 300 additional miles. When it runs out, pull into a fuel station to fill up for another 300 miles, just like a traditional car. It’s still an electric vehicle because the gasoline engine drives a generator, so it never directly powers the vehicle.