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Maple Leaf tagged with higher price Add to ...

Nissan Canada says the starting price of the all-electric Leaf in Canada will be $38,395, surprisingly high compared with the $33,720 base price of the battery electric vehicle (BEV) in the U.S. But the company argues that the Canadian Leaf will come standard with the Cold Weather package that's optional south of the border.

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Plus there are additional duties, regulatory and transportation costs in Canada, the auto maker said in a recently e-mailed response to the difference in pricing despite the above-par strength of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. greenback.

That $38,395 price is for the base SV model, while a higher SL trim is listed at $39,995, which adds a rear-view monitor, fog lights, a cargo cover, automatic garage door opener and solar panel trickle charger. No specifics yet on what the 220-volt home charger or freight cost will be, although Nissan did indicate the freight cost would be "somewhat higher" than usual ($1,385 on a Cube built at the same Oppama plant in Japan), because it requires special handling.

Leaf buyers in Ontario and Quebec will be eligible for provincial government rebates of $8,500 and $8,000 respectively, which will bring the effective cost of the Leaf for these buyers closer to 30 large, a much more reasonable figure for a vehicle that's about the size of a Toyota Matrix.

Nissan argues that the money-saving aspect of buying the Leaf comes in its low running and maintenance costs, which it estimates at about 80 per cent less than even a fuel-efficient gas-powered car. A Leaf owner can run 20,000 km on $320 worth of electricity, Nissan estimates, a distance that would cost $1,760 in gas on a car that averages 8.0 litres/100 km - think Mazda3, or a Civic continually driven hard. And that assumes gas at $1.10/litre, a price that would cause frenzied lineups at most Canadian gas stations.

Nissan did say that there will be a "quick charge" port available on SL models for $900, which will allow an 80 per cent charge from empty in 26 minutes from a commercial high-voltage charging station, though there are few if any such stations open yet to the public in Canada.

If a 40 grand Leaf still sounds shockingly high to you, keep in mind that Nissan is taking a major financial hit on the project, with execs estimating that the Leaf won't generate profits until the third year of production. But by raising the number of vehicles using the batteries and electric drivetrains to an expected 1.5 million globally by 2016 in various Renault and Infiniti models, Nissan seems committed to an EV future.

Fiat chairman Sergio Marchionne seems much less optimistic on the current business case for EVs. In a recent report in Automotive News Europe, he was quoted saying that Chrysler will lose $10,000 (U.S.) on every Fiat 500 EV it sells in the United States once the vehicle arrives next year "despite the retail price being three times higher" than a regular gas-powered version of the small two-door hatchback. The Fiat starts at about $15,000 in the U.S., which would put the 500 EV at close to a whopping $45,000. Marchionne had previously said the 500 EV would start at $32,000, about half of which was the cost of the battery, a price that seems much more realistic.

Shanghai-New York show mixup

Major international auto show organizers in New York and Shanghai may have been embarrassingly tripped up by scheduling overlapping international press days for their respective exhibitions, but it seems to be leading to a number of manufacturers planning global events to launch vehicles nearly simultaneously on both continents.

The Chevrolet Malibu will receive the international star treatment on both sides of the world, launching first in Shanghai on April 18, with a live discussion planned for Chevrolet's Facebook page immediately after. Chevrolet staffers from the Malibu design and engineering teams will be on hand late that evening (event starts at 8:30 p.m., EST) to answer questions about the car, GM's first mid-size sedan to be sold globally.

The new Malibu will also be displayed at the New York auto show, GM confirmed, likely starting on April 20, the first press day of the NYC show. GM has not revealed much about the revised car, saying only that it will now offer frugal and powerful four-cylinder engines, intimating that the V-6 option will be a thing of the past when the '12 Malibu arrives in dealers in the summer, as Kia and Hyundai have both done with the Optima and Sonata.

Volkswagen's launch of the new Beetle incorporates Shanghai, New York and also Berlin, with the German company pairing up with MTV to produce three launch parties on three continents for its curvy two-door - now dubbed 21st Century Beetle, instead of "New Beetle."

The reveal will begin in Shanghai with an exclusive MTV Sound System event hosted by MTV VJs, followed by MTV World Stage events in New York City and Berlin that will be broadcast live online in most parts of the world. The New York party will include a live performance by the Black Eyed Peas, while in Berlin, it will be Belgian duo 2manydjs who perform.

Saab's future uncertain

Saab Cars needs a cash infusion, or it may not survive, parent company Spyker Cars admitted in its annual report, released last week amid reports of two suppliers withholding parts from the auto maker for non-payment, temporarily shutting down production at Saab's Swedish plant.

The firm's "continuity" is at stake without more funds to continue its operations, since costs to run the former GM division have been higher than anticipated, said the report.

Going unsaid was the lack of alliances and research co-operation with other major manufacturers that Saab was expecting. At a launch event for the 9-5 last year, Saab execs were confident that an announcement with a major manufacturer would happen by the end of 2010. Instead, no major alliances were formed, and Spyker said Saab lost money, even with GM basically gifting the firm a factory and blueprints for two all-new models, the 9-5 sedan and the 9-4X crossover.

Speed limits on the autobahn?

German voters living in the same region as the headquarters of both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz have voted in a Green Party that campaigned partially on bringing speed limits to the famously limitless autobahn. The Green Party defeated a coalition led by German chancellor Angela Merkel, in a state where about 65 per cent of the highways have no speed limit, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche has publicly come out against autobahn speed limits, arguing that the fact its vehicles are built for high speeds is an "important argument" for its international appeal.

The Green Party argued for a speed limit of 120 km/h, and also favours more efficient engines, development of cars that use less gas, an introduction of city tolls and tax breaks for environmentally friendly vehicles.

How or whether this affects future Porsches and Benzes is not yet known, but it certainly is a pointed eye-opener to a radical shift in people's view of the automobile, even in areas which have benefited greatly from thirsty internal combustion automobiles.

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