Limited supplies keep sales of Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf down

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(AP) ó General Motors Co. and Nissan made good on their promise to bring mass-produced electric cars to the market in 2010, but donít count on seeing one in traffic soon.

Sales so far have been microscopic, and theyíre likely to stay that way for some time because of limited supplies.

GM sold between 250 and 350 Chevy Volts in December, and Nissanís sales totaled less than 10 Leaf sedans in the last two weeks of the month. Production for both is slowly ramping up.

It will be well into 2012 before the Volt and Leaf are available nationwide. If youíre interested in buying one, youíll need to get behind the 50,000 people already on waiting lists.

Itís still unclear just how large the market for electric cars will be once those early adopters are supplied. The base sticker price is $40,280 for the Volt and $32,780 for the Leaf, much higher than most similar-sized, gas-powered cars.

If those prices rise, it could make them even more of a niche product than predicted.

Buyers also are worried that advertised lease deals may not last, and a federal tax rebate of $7,500 could disappear if Congress decides battery-powered cars are no longer a priority.

The first electric car sales were marked with fanfare. The envy of green-car geeks across the country, new owners were treated like rock stars at dealerships.

Jeff Heeren of Nashville, Tenn., became the sixth Nissan Leaf owner on Dec. 22. Nissanís advertising agency, Chiat Day, followed Heeren and his family around as they picked up their silver Leaf and have posted a video on the Leafís Facebook page.

Not surprisingly, Heeren is a fan. ďWhatís amazed me the most in driving it is that itís just a car, like any other car,Ē he said.

The Leaf is the only all-electric car on the market. It can travel about 100 miles on battery power before needing to be recharged. Using a standard outlet, that takes 16 to 18 hours. Nissan Motor Co. recommends that Leaf owners install a 220/240-volt outlet, so they can recharge in about seven hours.

Nissan wonít give estimates on how many Leaf sedans it expects to sell in the United States this year, but said it can make 50,000 annually at a plant in Oppama, Japan.

The Volt goes about 40 miles on battery power alone before needing to be recharged, but it comes with a backup gas engine that GM said can extend its range to 375 miles as it kicks in to recharge the batteries on the fly.

The Volts are being assembled in Detroit. GM predicts it will sell 10,000 of them in 2011 and between 35,000 and 45,000 in 2012.

Hybrids made up 2.4 percent of U.S. sales in 2010, and the category that includes hybrids and electric cars is expected to double to 4.8 percent by 2013, according to consumer website

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