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Nissan to develop own hybrids to catch up with Toyota

Nissan, Japan's second-largest carmaker, will develop its own gasoline-electric hybrid cars by 2010, to compete in a segment where it lags Toyota and Honda Motor Co.

Nissan Motor Co., the last of Japan's top three automakers to develop a hybrid, will start selling the vehicles in the US and Japan in fiscal 2010, the company said in a statement today. The Tokyo-based automaker will also produce electric cars. The carmaker has started work on a new lithium-ion battery for use in hybrids and electric vehicles, it said in April.
CEO Carlos Ghosn had initially opted not to follow rivals when hybrids first came out nine years ago and instead bought parts from Toyota Motor Corp. to use in the Altima hybrid. „Nissan has been working on an advanced battery and components that may be more efficient, high-powered and compact than the ones on the market now, helping it catch up with rivals,” said Koji Endo, a senior analyst at Credit Suisse Group in Tokyo, who rates Nissan „outperform.”
„Nissan also has an advantage as it can share the cost and time to develop technology with its partner Renault.” Nissan and Renault SA, which have had an equity alliance since 1999, are jointly working on engines that run on diesel, bio-ethanol and natural gas, as well as hydrogen-powered fuel cells. Nissan is 44.3% owned by Renault.

A hybrid vehicle combines a gasoline engine with an electric motor. At low speeds, the motor powers the vehicle and the gasoline engine kicks in as the car gains speed. The battery pack for the motor is charged by the gasoline engine and by power regenerated whenever brakes are applied. Hybrid vehicle sales were 0.5% of the 62.2 million new cars, light trucks, vans and wagons sold last year globally, according to an estimate by CSM Worldwide in Tokyo.
Nissan's shares rose 0.5% to ¥1,364 at the close of trading in Tokyo. The stock has risen 14.1% this year, outpacing the 1.3% drop in the key Topix index. Nissan's new motor, lithium-ion battery and inverter may nearly double the acceleration performance of vehicles that run on fuel cells, electricity or hybrid engines, Nissan said in April 2006. The parts may be ready for use by 2009, according to Executive Vice President Mitsuhiko Yamashita. In an effort to cut emissions, the company also plans to develop a gasoline-powered car that can run 100 kilometers on three liters of fuel. It plans a fuel-cell vehicle by the early part of the next decade, it said.

The carmaker will begin selling a two-liter diesel engine in Europe next year and develop diesel engines for North America, Japan and China. The diesel engines for Europe will be developed and produced by Renault. Diesel engines emit about 20% less carbon-dioxide than gasoline engines. Particulate matter or soot produced by engines running on high-sulfur diesel aggravates asthma and other breathing problems and creates more smog, according to the Environmental Protection Agency in the US Nissan will start selling its US Altima hybrid, which uses Toyota components, from early 2007.
Toyota was the first automaker to sell a hybrid, with the Prius model in 1997, followed by Honda in 1999. Ghosn has said fuel savings from hybrids, which cost about $3,000 more than similar gasoline-only vehicles, aren't convincing enough for most carbuyers. „We've been working on all the technologies,” said Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga in an interview.
„We don't think we're behind.” The hybrid models that will go on sale in 2010 will be profitable, Shiga said. Nissan initially plans to sell the Altima Hybrid in California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine and New Jersey, the eight US states with the strictest emissions rules. (Bloomberg)