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Mon, Aug 03, 2009 - Page 10 News List

Nissan unveils its first fully electric model

AFP , TOKYO AND YOKOHAMA, JAPAN

The Nissan “Leaf” electric vehicle is displayed at an inauguration for the company’s new global headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, yesterday. The company predicted electric cars would make up at least 10 percent of global vehicle demand by 2020.

PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Nissan yesterday unveiled its first all electric car, the Leaf, vowing to open a new chapter for the troubled auto industry and take a lead over its bigger rivals in “green” vehicles.

The mid-sized hatchback, which will go on sale late next year in Japan, the US and Europe, represents a bold bet by Nissan that hybrids are merely a passing fad on the road to pure electric vehicles.

The Leaf, described by Nissan as “the world’s first affordable, zero-emission car,” can travel more than 160km on a single charge at a top speed of 140kph, the company said.

It will “lead the way to a zero-emission future, opening a new era in the automotive industry,” CEO Carlos Ghosn said, unveiling the car at the group’s new headquarters in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo.

“The Leaf is totally neutral to the environment: There is no exhaust pipe, no gasoline-burning engine. There is only the quiet, efficient power provided by our own lithium-ion battery packs,” he said.

The price was not announced but Ghosn said it would be “very competitive.”

Nissan plans to sell the car at a similar price to a comparable model with a petrol-powered engine. The battery, which will be stored under the seat and floor, will be leased separately.

“The monthly cost of the battery, plus the electric charge, will be less than the cost of gasoline,” Ghosn said.

Owners will be able to recharge the battery at home through the domestic power supply in about eight hours, or top it up to 80 percent capacity in around 30 minutes at planned electric recharging stations, it said.

Among other features, users will be able to use their cellphones to turn on the air conditioning and set the battery-charging functions.

If they need help finding the nearest charging station, the navigation system will point the way.

Nissan, Japan’s third-largest automaker, was slower than Toyota and Honda to embrace fuel-sipping petrol-electric hybrids, but it is determined to steal a march on its larger competitors in electric cars.

The dream of an electric car has so far failed to break into the mainstream because of limited battery life and high costs.

But after technological breakthroughs in the development of lithium-ion batteries, soon it may not just be Hollywood stars who are zipping around in electric cars.

Nissan sees a mass, not niche, market for electric cars, Ghosn said.

“Hybrids are not mass market. They represent 2 percent of the global market after many years,” he said.

The stakes are high for Nissan, which lost about US$2.5 billion in the year to March and is slashing 20,000 jobs.

“We need to invest a lot of money to build the car plants and the battery plants at a moment where all the auto companies are saving investments,” Ghosn said. “But there is such a high potential that we [will] go ahead with it.”

The Japanese maker, which is 44 percent owned by France’s Renault, plans to produce the Leaf in Japan and the US and manufacture some of the batteries at plants in Britain and Portugal.

The carmaker has signed agreements with various governments including Israel, Portugal and Singapore, as well as communities in Japan and the US to set up electric recharging stations.

The Leaf will not be the first electric car on the market. Mitsubishi Motors recently rolled out its “i-MiEV” minicar, while Fuji Heavy Industries launched the Subaru Plug-in STELLA.

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