Nissan Unveils 'Leaf' Electric Car

Aug. 2, 2009
The mid-sized hatchback will go on sale in late 2010 in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.

On August 2 Nissan 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 zero emission vehicles.

The mid-sized hatchback, which will go on sale in late 2010 in Japan, the U.S., 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 160 kilometers (100 miles) on a single charge, at a top speed of 140 kilometers per hour, the company said.

It will "lead the way to a zero emission future, opening a new era in the automotive industry," chief executive 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 added.

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% capacity in around 30 minutes at planned electric recharging stations.

Among other features, users will be able to use their mobile telephones 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 zero-emission cars. Nissan sees a mass -- not niche -- market for electric cars, said Ghosn. "Hybrids are not mass market. They represent two percent of the global market after many years," he said.

The stakes are high for Nissan, which lost about $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," said Ghosn. "But there is such a high potential that we (will) go ahead with it."

The Japanese maker, which is 44% owned by France's Renault, plans to produce the Leaf in Japan and the United States 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 local communities in Japan and the U.S. to set up electric recharging stations.

But 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.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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