How to Get First in Line for Nissan's Electric LEAF

So you want to be an early adopter of electric cars, eh? Automakers ranging from General Motors to Coda Automotive are working to roll out plug-in models during the next couple years. But if it’s the Nissan LEAF — an electric sedan slated to roll out in a few markets the fourth quarter of this year before widespread distribution in 2011 — that you’re keen on, you have one more day to wiggle into the first group of buyers.

According to a notice from Nissan this morning, people who register on the automaker’s web site by the end of Monday will be eligible to place early registrations — paying a $99 refundable fee and answering questions to fill out what Nissan calls a driving profile in order to get a spot in line. The car company plans to begin accepting these early reservations (no more than one per household) on Tuesday, while the general reservation process (for folks who don’t sign up by the end of today) won’t open until May 15.

By June 30, Nissan (whose director of product planning for North America, Mark Perry will be speaking at our Green:Net conference April 29 in San Francisco) says it will “provide individual updates” on reservations. Previously, the automaker has said it will begin accepting “firm orders” in August and start deliveries in the earliest markets by December 2010.

Priced last month at $32,780 (before incentives), the LEAF will sell for slightly under the retail prices slated for Mitsuishi’s planned i-MiEV, Coda Automotive’s Coda sedan, and Tesla’s Model S (see: Electric Sedan Smackdown). But it’s a fair amount higher than the starting price for the conventional sedan models with which Nissan has said it aims to offer a competitive price.

For those who opt to lease, the LEAF’s $349 monthly payment comes in at a fraction of the lease payment for a Tesla Roadster, but on the high end compared to leasing offers available for cars like the conventional Civic.

Those price differences might not make a huge difference for the earliest adopters, but when the average price of new cars sold in the U.S. is $28,400, it could create a speed bump on the road to mass market adoption.

Paying for electricity instead of gas, EV drivers can end up seeing lower costs over time compared to conventional vehicles. But as researcher Brett Williams from the University of California, Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center commented earlier this month on a panel about vehicle-to-grid technology hosted by Agrion, a “typical consumer doesn’t know how much they spent on their last fill-up, let alone last month.” They’ll more likely compare their electricity bills (before and after bringing an electric vehicle into the mix), he said, than per-mile driving costs.

What about you? Let us know in the comments where you stand, and whether you aim to get one of the earliest available plug-in cars or wait a couple generations (or more) for the price to come down.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

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