Since Nissan launched the Leaf electric vehicle in the U.S. in December, 211 dealers have been certified to sell the car, which represents 82% of showrooms in the seven launch states, and customers have logged 400,000 miles (643,720 km) in the EV.

And sales are picking up. Since December, Nissan has sold 1,044 Leafs, including 573 in April. The EV outsold the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle, which tallied 493 deliveries in April, for a calendar-year total of 1,703 units. Meanwhile, Lexus sold 279 HS 250h hybrid-electric vehicles in the month.

“Today, we are even more convinced that gas-free solutions are not just a marketing project, but critical to securing the long-term viability of our mobility industry,” Nissan Americas Chairman Carlos Tavares says in a speech at the recent New York auto show.

“We even know of one Nissan Leaf driver – who asked to remain nameless – who got a speeding ticket in his Nissan Leaf that could result in him losing his license for a month,” Tavares says.

Leaf owners average 7 miles (11 km) per trip and typically charge for two hours and 11 minutes on a Level 2 240V charger at home, according to Nissan research.

“Imagine not even knowing the price for a gallon of gas,” he says. “That’s just one defining aspect of what we’re calling ‘The Value of Zero.’ We are proud that this ad campaign has captured the growing global sentiment that the time for zero-emission vehicles is now.”

While supply of many Japanese-built vehicles has been constrained by a devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the island nation March 11, the Leaf is arriving in larger numbers in the U.S., thanks to two recent shipments from Japan.

A freighter carrying 127 Leafs built in Oppama, Japan, after the earthquake departed April 5 and arrived at the Port of Los Angeles late last week. The number may not sound huge, but it is significant in the nascent market for all-electric vehicles.

Helping feed Nissan’s pipeline was an earlier shipment from Japan that arrived in late April, when Tavares spoke in New York.

“We also recognize delivery timing has been a point of frustration for some of our first consumers,” Tavares said at the time. “We are taking consumer feedback very seriously.”

With the pipeline filling up, Tavares promises U.S. deliveries of the Leaf will “go from the few hundreds to the many thousands. All consumers who reside in launch markets and have ordered a Nissan Leaf can expect it in their driveways by this summer.”

The initial launch markets are Washington, California, Oregon, Tennessee, Arizona, Texas and Hawaii. The Southeast will be added this fall, and the rest of the U.S. will have the Leaf on sale by the end of 2012.

By then, Nissan’s plant in Smyrna, TN, will be assembling the EV, and lithium-ion batteries will be produced at an adjacent facility. Nissan has taken 20,000 reservations nationwide for the Leaf.

This month, Nissan has reopened reservations in the seven launch states, giving individuals who already have registered on the Nissan website first crack at reserving new Leafs as they arrive.

For the first three months since the December launch, the U.S. has received a mere trickle of Leafs while most production remained in the domestic Japanese market. Tavares admits Leaf buyers in the U.S. have been waiting from four to seven months, and that order-to-delivery turnaround times will shrink to between three and four months.

“We have also certified 844 sales and service technicians and have completed more than 3,000 home charger assessments and installations,” Tavares says. “Globally, we have forged 93 partnerships with governments and utilities.”

Charging options include a standard 120V wall socket and a 240V at-home charging station. The zero-emissions Leaf also can take a 440V quick charge in about 30 minutes, but those docks are just beginning to appear.

The ’12 model year brings new Leaf options for the U.S., including a cold-weather package that will be available in all markets and standard in cold climates.

Designed to maximize range and performance, the package includes heated seats and steering wheel and a battery blanket to ensure optimal performance in sub-zero weather. Tavares says it’s too early to discuss a price target for the package.

Also in New York, Nissan sought to recast EVs as exciting by unveiling the Leaf NISMO RC all-electric race car, which will appear at various motorsports events throughout the year. The auto maker is exploring a race series in the future.

The 2-door race car has a full carbon-fiber monocoque body, has a shorter wheelbase, is 6.7 ins. (17 cm) wider and sits 13.8 ins. (35 cm) lower than the production Leaf. At 2,068 lbs. (938 kg), the race car is 40% lighter.

The mid-ship lithium-ion battery pack drives the rear wheels and, like the production Leaf, uses an 80kW AC synchronous motor that generates 107 hp and 207 lb.-ft (280 Nm) of torque.

Nissan has clocked the car to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 6.8 seconds, with a top speed of 93 mph (150 km/h). It is projected to have a running time of about 20 minutes under racing conditions.

The Leaf was named 2011 World Car of the Year at the New York auto show by a jury of North American, Asian and European journalists.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com