Following its recent unveiling, Nissan has announced that its forthcoming Leaf electric vehicle will hit the retail market in 2010. The Leaf was originally scheduled to launch in fleets next year with retail sales beginning in 2012, but Nissan has committed to at least 5,000 sales in 2010.

Nissan will initially launch the Leaf in five U.S. markets - the Tucson-Phoenix area, Oregon, Seattle, San Diego and Tennessee. Nissan chose those five locations as Electric Transportation Engineering Corp. will be setting up charging stations in those areas, thanks to a $99.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Although the 5,000 Leafs will technically be for retail sales, buyers will still be required to participate in a testing program. All Leafs sold next year will come with a black box designed to monitor recharging habits. Because of the nature of the program, Nissan will select the first 5,000 buyers.

"We don't want these first cars going to somebody who commutes 150 miles a day or who lives a great distance from a recharging station," Mark Perry, Nissan's director of product planning and strategy, told Automotive News.

Nissan has yet to release pricing for the Leaf but says the EV will be on par with similar gasoline powered vehicles.