Nissan: LEAF, Like Other Electric Cars, Will Lose Money at First

So close, yet so far — that’s where Nissan stands when it comes to making a profit on its upcoming LEAF electric sedan. While the automaker has previously described the model as being priced for profitability from the get-go, Nissan now says (h/t GM-Volt) that it expects to initially lose money on the vehicle, at least until it fires up high volume production at a U.S. plant in 2013.

“Over the course of the vehicle life, it is profitable — in year three,” Nissan’s U.S. sales and marketing director Brian Carolin tells the Wall Street Journal. That brings Nissan’s expectations more in line with competitors like General Motors (s GM) which has said it will likely sell the upcoming plug-in Chevy Volt at a loss for at least the first generation.

Mark Perry, director of product planning and strategy for Nissan North America, told us late last month that the automaker would be in the black with its inaugural electric model largely because of years of work developing and investing in battery technology.

The battery generally represents the most expensive part of the electric vehicles slated to roll out during the next five years. According to a Bloomberg interview with Masahiko Otsuka, president of Nissan’s battery-making joint venture with NEC Corp, Automotive Energy Supply Corp., Nissan has the ambitious target of bringing the cost per kilowatt-hour for its battery pack to less than $370 per kilowatt-hour, down from an estimated $472 per kilowatt-hour for its batteries today.

Priced at $32,780 (before incentives), the LEAF could be one of the cheapest highway-capable electric vehicles on the road in coming years, slightly undercutting the retail prices expected for BYD’s e6, Coda Automotive’s Coda sedan, Tesla Motors’ Model S and General Motors’ Chevy Volt (see: 12 Plug-in Cars You Can Drive by 2011 and Electric Sedan Smackdown).

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Photo courtesy of Nissan