Sales of electric vehicles Nissan Leaf may reach 12,000 in 2011

The carmaker sold 1,142 electric cars Leafs in the U.S. last month, the most since it began shipping them in December. Deliveries should continue at that pace, totaling between 10,000 and 12,000 by the end of the year, Al Castignetti, Nissan’s vice president of U.S. sales, said in an interview Wednesday.

"That’s a reasonable figure," Castignetti said. "We’re very positive about this program. It’s different than anything we’ve ever done, launching the electric car in three global markets at the same time. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy."

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive officer of Nissan and its partner, Renault SA, has positioned Nissan to meet demand for electric cars he expects to account for 10 percent of global sales by 2020.

In the U.S., electric car Leaf deliveries began at a trickle, averaging just 113 units a month from December through March, before accelerating in April and May.

Nissan took 20,000 reservations from U.S. customers last year for the compact, rated in the U.S. as going from 100 km to more than 160 km when its lithium-ion battery pack is fully charged. With a base price of about $33,000 (¥2.7 million) before a federal tax credit, the Leaf is the first mass-market electric car sold in the U.S.

The initial reservation figure ultimately shrank to 11,000 firm orders, said Katherine Zachary, a spokeswoman for Nissan. Nissan began taking Leaf reservations again in May, which require a $99 deposit, and has secured about 1,000 additional orders, she said.

"Reservations are going pretty good," Castignetti said. Sales of the car will jump after Nissan’s battery factory, being built next to its main North American plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, opens in 2012, he said. Leaf sales totalled 2,167 through May. By comparison, General Motors Co. has sold 2,184 units of its Volt plug-in car this year. Nissan’s North American unit is based in Franklin, Tennessee.