Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nissan Brings Back the Electric Car

by Nick Bunkley
The New York Times
July 23, 2008

The electric cars that Nissan Motor plans to start selling by 2010 will have varying capabilities depending on a given country’s driving patterns, but all will be priced competitively and will generate profits, company executives said Tuesday.

Nissan’s chief executive, Carlos Ghosn, said that any electric car the company sold in the United States would need a range of at least 100 miles between charges to be practical, but that European drivers could make do with about half that range. Tolerance for the time it takes to recharge such a car may vary widely as well, he said.

One aspect that Mr. Ghosn said would remain constant, however, is that the cars would produce zero tailpipe emissions, unlike some vehicles being developed by rivals that have range-extending gasoline engines to power the car after its battery is depleted. Building cars powered by alternative fuels but that still use oil is “unsustainable,” he said.

“I want a pure electric car. I don’t want a range extender. I don’t want another hybrid,” Mr. Ghosn told reporters after a ceremony to dedicate Nissan’s new North American headquarters in Franklin, an affluent suburb in the hills south of Nashville. “It’s not going to be zero emissions in certain conditions. It’s going to be zero emissions.”

In May, Mr. Ghosn asserted that Nissan would, within two years, become the first automaker to sell a mass-market, zero-emission vehicle in the United States. The company plans to sell such cars globally by 2012.

But Nissan does not intend to reach those milestones merely for show, said Dominique Thormann, its senior vice president for finance in North America. In an interview, Mr. Thormann said Nissan would not sell the cars unless it could make a profit immediately, at an affordable price.

“Everything that we develop, we develop for profits,” he said. “We make money on all our cars. We do not have loss leaders.”

To help in its development of electric cars, Nissan said Tuesday that it would work with the state of Tennessee and its largest electric utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority, to study and perhaps install infrastructure like charging stations. The automaker has begun similar efforts in Denmark, Israel and Portugal, but the United States presents a far greater opportunity for Nissan to market electric cars.

Separately, General Motors said Tuesday that it was working with the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute, which represents more than 30 large electric utilities in North America, to encourage development of electric vehicles. G.M. is developing the Chevrolet Volt, also for introduction in 2010, which can go 40 miles on battery power before switching to its gas-powered engine.

Nissan is opening its 450,000-square-foot headquarters here in Franklin two years after it pulled up stakes in Southern California for temporary quarters in downtown Nashville. And overseas automakers in the South, particularly in Tennessee, are growing rapidly. Last week, Volkswagen of Germany selected Chattanooga as the site of its first United States car plant.

Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Toyota and Hyundai also have factories in the region. Meanwhile, the Detroit automakers have been laying off thousands of workers and closing plants across the Midwest and other parts of the country.

“The arrival of the auto industry in Tennessee has transformed our lives,” Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican, told Nissan employees during the dedication ceremony, which was followed by country music, tours of the energy-efficient building and a pie-baking contest. “You put the South on a path to become the new center of the American auto industry.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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