Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn introduces the Leaf in Yok.
(photo credit: AP)
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn made a quiet entrance Sunday
at the Japanese automaker's new headquarters building - driving the
company's zero-emission vehicle on stage for its inaugural public
Nissan Motor Co.'s environmentally friendly
automobile - a blue hatchback with a sporty design and a recharging
opening in the front - is set to go on sale in Japan, the US and Europe
Designer Shiro Nakamura said the vehicle was intentionally designed to avoid a stereotypical futuristic design.
"This is not a niche car," he said. "We didn't make it unusual looking. It had to be a real car."
has promised that the Leaf, which goes into mass-production as a global
model in 2012, will be about the same price as a gas-engine car such as
the 1.5 million yen ($15,000) Tiida, which sells abroad as the Versa,
starting at about $10,000.
The car has a range of 160 kilometers on a single battery
charge, according to Nissan. The company is targeting initial annual
production of 50,000 units for the Leaf at its Oppama plant in
, including export models.
Ghosn drove out on stage with former prime
minister Junichiro Koizumi sitting next to him and a Yokohama governor
and mayor in the rear seats.
"This car represents a real breakthrough," Ghosn told reporters and guests in the new headquarters' showroom.
He said the new car and new office building in Yokohama,
southwest of Tokyo, marked two fresh starts for Nissan, which hopes to
take the lead in zero-emission vehicles.
Nissan, Japan's No. 3 automaker, which has an alliance with
Renault SA of France, has fallen behind Japanese rivals Toyota Motor
Corp. and Honda Motor Co. in gas-electric hybrids that have become
increasingly popular recently.
Nissan said the new 22-story headquarters was designed to be
energy-efficient to qualify as one of the most ecological buildings in
Japan. The company, which is losing money amid the global downturn, is
selling its old Tokyo headquarters as part of efforts to cut costs.
Koizumi said environmentally friendly auto technology holds the key to Japan's economic growth.
"It was so unexpectedly smooth and quiet," he said after getting out of the car. "I am sure this car is going to be popular."
Nissan received a $1.6 billion loan from the US Department of
Energy to modify its Tennessee-based plant to produce electric vehicles
and batteries to power them, with production starting in 2012.
Other carmakers, including US-based Tesla Motors, are also racing to make electric automobiles.
In June, Nissan's smaller Japanese rival, Mitsubishi Motors
Corp., launched its electric vehicle, the 4.59 million yen ($48,300)
The company has acknowledged that may be too expensive for most consumers.
Toyota has said it plans to sell electric vehicles in the US by
2012. Chinese automaker Dongfeng Motor Corp. has teamed up with a
Dutch-based company to develop and make electric cars.
Ghosn said Nissan's electric vehicle would get a boost from the
interest of governments around the world. He said tougher emissions
regulations were expected to increase market share of such cars to 5
percent. Hybrid models only make up about 2% of the auto market now, he
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