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Plug In and Save: A Run-Down of the Soon-To-Be-Released Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt and Their Related Tax Breaks and Rebates

With the Los Angeles Auto Show in full swing and plenty of its focus geared towards environmentally friendly vehicles (including remarks on the subject by Governor Schwarzenegger), we here at GREENberg bLAWg thought it would be a good time for a quick overview of the new green cars coming soon to a dealer near you as well as the tax breaks associated therewith. Although there are several alternative fuel vehicles debuting in the coming year, this article will focus on the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt.

First, a primer. Many people think that the Leaf and the Volt are both “electric vehicles” – end of story. However, they are actually different kinds of cars. The Leaf is a true electric vehicle. This means that it is driven by an electric motor powered by rechargeable battery packs. These types of cars have zero tailpipe emissions; however, the power plants that produce the electricity may emit pollution. Other advantages include a smooth, quiet ride with less maintenance than a traditional combustion engine powered vehicle and the fact that electricity is a domestic energy source, thereby reducing the United States’ dependence on foreign oil. The obvious disadvantages include long charge times, expensive and heavy battery packs and relatively low driving ranges. According to the EPA, the Nissan Leaf gets the equivalent of 99 miles per gallon and had a range of 73 miles on a fully charged battery.

The Volt, on the other hand, is a “plug-in hybrid.” These are hybrid vehicles with a higher capacity battery which can be charged via an electrical outlet or a charging station. This type of vehicle shares many of the advantages and disadvantages with the electric vehicles; however, because it also has a small internal combustion engine to create electricity on-board, it does not have the limited driving range issue that the true electric vehicles do. The Volt can travel 25-50 miles solely on electricity and up to another 310 miles using its 4-cylinder combustion engine and 55kW generator. The EPA has not yet finished rating the fuel efficiency of the Volt.

“How much will they cost and aren’t there tax breaks and rebates I can get?” you ask. Before any tax breaks, the Volt has a sticker price of $40,280 and the Leaf will sell for $32,780. Both of these vehicles are eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit for plug-in cars established by the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. Buyers in California will be glad to know that the state offers a $5,000 rebate for pure electric cars and a $3,000 rebate for plug-in electric cars. But not so fast! California Assembly Bill 118, which passed in October of 2007, established these rebates and set up a $9.1 million pool with which to fund them. By the time the Leaf is in dealerships later this year, there will only be enough left for 1,600 of the estimated 5,000 prospective buyers, with rebates handed out on a first-come-first-served basis. So, although the Leaf is eligible for the $5,000 rebate, it may not be available by the time you get yours. The news is even worse for the Volt. Its buyers won’t receive the $3,000 California rebate because it does not meet the California Air Resources Board’s stringent requirements, including a 10-year, 150,000 mile warranty on its battery pack (the Volt has an 8-year, 100,000 mile warranty on its battery pack). Chevrolet expects that its 2012 model will meet these qualifications.

“So, when can I buy one?” you ask. Nissan dealerships in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Tennessee will begin selling the Leaf in December. Texas and Hawaii will start sales in January and additional sales will follow later in 2011. The Volt is on a very similar roll-out schedule, with sales in California, the New York City area, Washington D.C. and Austin, TX beginning in late 2010 and sales in Michigan, the balance of Texas, New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut scheduled to start in March 2011. Distribution to all 50 states is said to be complete within 12 to 18 months.

Categories: Clean Technology