Monday, August 3, 2009

Nissan Motor Co took the wraps off its much-awaited electric car today

Yokohama, Aug. 2 (Reuters): Nissan Motor Co took the wraps off its much-awaited electric car today, naming the hatchback Leaf and taking a step towards its goal of leading the industry in the zero-emissions field.

Japan’s No. 3 automaker and its French partner, Renault SA, have been the most aggressive proponents of pure electric vehicles in the auto industry, announcing plans to mass-market the clean but expensive cars globally in 2012.

Nissan will begin selling the first Leaf cars in the US and Japan in the latter half of next year, adding two more models soon after. It expects production to start with around 200,000 units a year.

Twinning the car’s unveiling with the inauguration of Nissan’s new global headquarters in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, CEO Carlos Ghosn drove up to the stage in a sky-blue Leaf prototype, carrying former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to greet a throng of journalists.

“We celebrate today the start of a new chapter of our company’s life,” Ghosn said.

With oil prices topping $60 even in a recession and environmental regulations tightening, Ghosn said he was optimistic about electric vehicles entering the mainstream, expecting them to represent one in 10 new cars globally by 2020.

“We are seeing electric cars not as a niche car but as a mass-market car,” he said. “The big problem is going to be (production) capacity.”

Ghosn described the Leaf as a “powerful car, like having a turbo” charger except with no delay in response since there is no gear shift.

Nissan did not announce pricing for the five-seater Leaf, but Ghosn said the price, without the expensive lithium-ion battery that Nissan is considering leasing, would be within the range of a comparable gasoline-engine car.

Nissan’s Leaf has a top speed of over 140kmph and a cruising range of at least 160km, a distance that covers the needs of 80 per cent of the world’s drivers, according to Nissan.

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