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Electric cars to be 10 per cent of demand: Nissan

Bloomberg  |  Tokyo 

Nissan Motor Co Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said electric cars will make up at least 10 per cent of global vehicle demand by 2020, depending on conditions.

“Ten percent by 2020 is very reasonable,” Ghosn said, referring to research by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Demand estimates are based on Nissan’s assessment of rising energy prices and tougher environmental regulations, Ghosn said at a conference today after the opening of the automaker’s new headquarters in Yokohama, south of Tokyo.

Nissan, Japan’s third-largest carmaker, today unveiled an electric car able to travel 100 miles (160 kilometers) on a full charge, saying it plans to start sales in the US, Europe and Japan next year. Nissan spent 17 years developing the car’s lithium-ion battery, which it expects to help make the auto maker the biggest supplier of electric vehicles.

“It’s an aggressive number but I think it’s achievable as the number of eco-conscious people will grow,” said Yasuhiro Matsumoto, senior analyst at Shinsei Securities Co. Ghosn gave that forecast partly to urge governments, manufacturers and his company’s partners to cooperate in promoting electric cars, Matsumoto added.

The price of the five-passenger electric Leaf will be “competitive,” Ghosn said at the unveiling. Excluding battery, it will cost about the same as an equivalent gasoline-powered car, he said.

“We are going to go for mass market,” Ghosn said. “The car will be reasonable for consumers with zero emissions, and that is just a cherry on the cake.”

The compact Leaf is modified from the platform used for Nissan’s Tiida hatchback, sold in the US as the Versa.

The car’s lithium-ion battery pack can be fully recharged at a 200-volt outlet in eight hours, or in less than 30 minutes from a so-called fast-charge station, according to Nissan. The auto maker is preparing to produce about 350,000 electric vehicles a year globally.

Nissan aims to use a $1.6 billion US loan to retool a factory in Tennessee so battery-powered cars can be made on the same line that currently produces hybrids and other models. The automaker will also receive grants and loans from the UK and Portugal to build factories for lithium-ion batteries. The company hasn’t disclosed the amount of aid it will receive.

The Japanese automaker has said it will have the capacity to produce 200,000 electric vehicles in the US, 100,000 in Europe and 50,000 in Japan. Nissan and partner Renault SA plan to offer electric vehicles in the US and Japan starting in 2010 and globally in 2012.

Automakers have begun to develop gasoline-electric hybrid models as higher fuel prices and rising environmental concerns spur demand. Toyota’s Prius hybrid was the best-selling vehicle in Japan last month, while Honda’s Insight ranked fourth, excluding minicars.

Ghosn has said Nissan didn’t have the financial resources to develop gasoline-electric hybrid technology in the late 1990’s. The automaker is planning to deploy electric powertrains in compact cars and hybrids for bigger and luxury models.

Nissan aims to sell a hybrid car using its own system in fiscal 2010 in Japan and the US Currently, the automaker’s sole hybrid, the Altima, uses Toyota technology and is only available in the US

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First Published: Mon, August 03 2009. 00:24 IST