Charge! First Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs Head for the Road
The GM Volt, which runs off batteries that can be recharged from a wall outlet, or by a small gas engine under the hood.
Credit: General Motors

The Volt and the Leaf, the two highly touted electric vehicles from major automakers General Motors and Nissan, rspectively, have officially left the assembly line and are out in the world.

Nissan delivered its first Leaf to a customer in San Francisco last weekend, and other early adopters are getting their hands on the all-electric vehicle's steering wheel this week in San Diego, Calif.; Arizona; Oregon; Tennessee, and Washington.

Meanwhile, the first batch of Chevy Volts rolled out of a Detroit plant on Monday for shipment to customers in California, New York, Texas and Washington, D.C. Some 350 Volts will be distributed throughout the country this week, GM said in a statement.

The Volt is a "plug-in hybrid," meaning it runs on electricity for 40 miles (64 km) or so until the battery is drained, after which a gasoline-powered generator supplies electricity for more than 300 additional miles (482 km). GM is claiming 379 miles (610 km) of total trip range before having to recharge or slurp down some petroleum.

Nissan's Leaf abstains from fossil fuel, and the all-electric ride can go 100 miles (160 km) before it runs dry of electrons.

"Electricity is the new fuel for cars, and the Nissan Leaf has the potential to transform the automotive industry and the way people drive," Carlos Tavares, the chairman of Nissan Americas, said in a statement. "Drivers have the freedom to choose a future that produces zero tailpipe emissions, moves away from our dependence on fossil fuels, and represents the end of trips to the gas station."

Pure electric vehicles, however, face a long road ahead in terms of widespread adoption; the relative non-existence of public quick-charging stations outside of a few metropolitan areas and California presents a chicken-and-egg problem: so few electric vehicles in use precludes the need for fill 'er up depots, and the dearth of such stations might well discourage people from buying an electric car.

Or so the argument has gone. But Nissan clearly thinks it has a market for the Leaf — well-off urbanites with short commutes — that will over time expand to other demographics. The Volt, with its "extended- range capability," as GM calls it, could represent the middle road for those who desire the benefits of an electric car but would rather not live with "range anxiety."

Tony DiSalle, Volt marketing director, called the first shipments of the car a "historic milestone for Chevrolet," adding in a statement: "We have redefined automotive transportation with the Volt, and soon the first customers will be able to experience gas-free commuting with the freedom to take an extended trip whenever or wherever they want."

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