Turning over a new Leaf

The dawn of the electric car age may be just around the corner.

In the coming weeks local dealerships expect to show off their first all-electric Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs.

The vehicles will roll off production lines just as the auto market is climbing out of the doldrums. On Monday, the federal government reported that car sales nationwide rose 14.7% in October compared with the same time a year ago, and are up 5% compared with September.

The all-electric vehicles are not on the road today. But Leslie Aguilar at Glendale Nissan said he expects the first Leaf to arrive on Brand Boulevard in mid-December. The car travels an estimated 100 miles without a charge, and sells for between $33,000 and $36,000.

More than 20,000 people across the country have pre-registered for the rights to buy the 2011 model.

Steve Gomez, head of Internet sales at Community Chevrolet in Burbank, said Chevrolet will make between 20,000 and 40,000 of the 2011 Volts.

The Volt will be released next month in seven markets around the country, and will be available only to dealerships in limited numbers. Gomez said he expects the Olive Avenue dealership to get eight of the cars.

He said he has already pre-sold four Volts, and will keep one on the premises for test drives and consumer inspections

"We could have them all pre-sold, but we want to keep at least three available to the public," he said.

The Volt can go about 50 miles without a charge, and sells for between $40,000 and $46,000, Gomez added.

Gomez said he believes the time is right as far as consumer interest in electric cars. It's also good timing for General Motors, which was saved from collapse by a heavy federal government investment and is poised to start selling shares of stock again later this week.

"Especially where GM is, we need to take a leap forward," Gomez said. "Something new. Something better. Something that will save people money."

The arrival of electric cars will require other changes, including the spread of charging stations.

Joseph Shinn, a sales manager for Arcadia-based charging station distributor Clean Fuel Connection Inc., said, "You can't throw these vehicles out there and then find the only place you can charge them is your house."

Shinn said his company expects to see demand for the chargers spread from his existing customers — municipalities and businesses with fleets of electric work vehicles — to gas stations and other locales convenient for commuters.

"This is going to be a wave. I don't know how big the wave is going to be, but there is going to be a huge transition," he said.

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