Nissan North America says it has received 22,000 queries about the Leaf electric car in the U.S., and is targeting 20,000 reservations by the end of next year. It will start taking names in early spring, says spokesman Scott Stevens.

No price has been announced for the Leaf, but Stevens said it would be comparable to a leading economy compact car. Asked if $20,000 would at least be in the ballpark, he said, “I can’t give you numbers, but it’s probably in the range of what you just cited. It won’t be less than that.”

That would be a game-changing price, if it turns out to be true. Because of the high cost of battery packs, many other EVs hover closer to $30,000. Some estimates have put the Leaf at $25,000, but without the batteries. I’m going to stick my neck out and predict it will come in at $25,000, with the pack.

The Leaf, as well as its lithium-ion battery pack, will be produced inJapan until 2012, and in Smyrna, Tennessee after that. Reservations will be taken here. The company says it will dispense advice to the reservation list on how to become “plug ready.”

The U.S. company says that 22,000 people have contacted Nissan about the Leaf since it was revealed in August. And 70 percent of those folks live in markets actually on Nissan’s target list for public battery charging. Some 45 percent say they have an interest in owning an EV within two or three years. The strongest responses were from San DiegoTucsonSeattlePortland (Oregon) and Los Angeles. All are Leaf markets.

In other interesting demographic results, more than 90 percent of respondents said they drive less than 100 miles (the range of the battery Leaf) in a day. And 75 percent are in two-car households, “prime candidates,” says Nissan.

In November, the Leaf is going on a U.S. tour, starting in Los Angeles, after an appearance at the Tokyo Motor Show. The Renault-Nissan Alliance’s charging partnerships are in the states ofTennessee and OregonSonoma County and San Diego in California, Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona, Washington, D.C.,Seattle and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Nissan got a $1.6 billion federal loan to help equip the Smyrna facility for EVs and batteries by 2012. The company will also be bringing 12,500 Leafs into five key markets as part of a $100 million federal grant.

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