What if they built electric vehicles (EVs) and there was no place to plug them in? That’s been the chicken-and-egg conundrum keeping EVs off the market in modern times. But Nissan doesn’t want to wait for charging networks — it’s building them itself. And now it has a car to go with the wiring.

Nissan turned over a new Leaf over the weekend, showing off its five-door, five-seat hatchback in Yokohama, Japan. Here's what it looks like on the road:

If it drives like the “mule” version I tested a few months ago, it will be very quick off the line and a bit short of breath at the top end. The car has a 100-mile range and a 90-mph top speed. A charge takes eight hours from a 220-volt outlet, and a whopping 14 from 110. Do you have 220 at home? If you have an electric dryer, you’re all set.

Rolling out in late 2010, 50,000 Leafs will be sold in the U.S., Europe and Japan the first year, with China following soon after.

Mark Perry, a company spokesman, said the Nissan Leaf will cost no more than a comparable mid-sized car, and that means with a price around $15,000 the company could initially lose money on each one. The battery pack alone reportedly costs $10,000. Perry said customers would either buy or lease the little car, but pricing will be announced later. Perry also said he expects most buyers to charge up at home, but — especially for the Leaf — there will be other options.

Fast-charging is starting to catch on as a customer lure. A “green” McDonald’s in North Carolina offers it (charge up while “enjoying your meal,” as long as you’re not Super Size Me’s Morgan Spurlock). Also on the EV charging bandwagon is the Elements Lexington eco-hotel near Boston. I would expect most big-box retailers will soon offer charging — because if they don’t, the competition will. Walmart, for instance, already allows RVs to plug in free in its parking lots. And why not — they’re going to go into the store, right?

And then there’s Nissan’s own charging networks. Alone among carmakers, the Renault-Nissan Alliance has gone around the world making partnerships with countries, states and cities. In the U.S., it expects to have 10-15 such partners (including the states of Tennessee and Oregon, several California locations, Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona, Seattle, Raleigh and Washington, D.C.)

The Leaf has a blue logo, not the expected green one. “Blue is the new green,” said Perry.

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