Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn made a quiet entrance Sundayat the Japanese automaker's new headquarters building - driving thecompany's zero-emission vehicle on stage for its inaugural publicviewing.
Nissan Motor Co.'s environmentally friendlyautomobile - a blue hatchback with a sporty design and a rechargingopening in the front - is set to go on sale in Japan, the US and Europenext year.
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."
Nissanhas promised that the Leaf, which goes into mass-production as a globalmodel in 2012, will be about the same price as a gas-engine car such asthe 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 batterycharge, according to Nissan. The company is targeting initial annualproduction of 50,000 units for the Leaf at its Oppama plant inYokohama, including export models.
Ghosn drove out on stage with former primeminister Junichiro Koizumi sitting next to him and a Yokohama governorand 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 totake the lead in zero-emission vehicles.
Nissan, Japan's No. 3 automaker, which has an alliance withRenault SA of France, has fallen behind Japanese rivals Toyota MotorCorp. and Honda Motor Co. in gas-electric hybrids that have becomeincreasingly popular recently.
Nissan said the new 22-story headquarters was designed to beenergy-efficient to qualify as one of the most ecological buildings inJapan. The company, which is losing money amid the global downturn, isselling 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 ofEnergy to modify its Tennessee-based plant to produce electric vehiclesand 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 MotorsCorp., launched its electric vehicle, the 4.59 million yen ($48,300)i-MiEV.
The company has acknowledged that may be too expensive for most consumers.
Toyota has said it plans to sell electric vehicles in the US by2012. Chinese automaker Dongfeng Motor Corp. has teamed up with aDutch-based company to develop and make electric cars.
Ghosn said Nissan's electric vehicle would get a boost from theinterest of governments around the world. He said tougher emissionsregulations were expected to increase market share of such cars to 5percent. Hybrid models only make up about 2% of the auto market now, hesaid.