Nissan shows off prototypes of electric, hybrid vehicles

by Hiroko Nakata

YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa Pref. — Nissan Motor Co. unveiled prototypes Wednesday of electric and gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles it plans to launch in Japan and the United States in business 2010.

The announcement, made at Nissan’s Oppama plant in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, where its lithium-ion battery R&D center is located, comes at a time when competition for environment-friendly vehicles is heating up in Japan. Nissan previously said it will begin mass-marketing electric vehicles globally in business 2012.

The prototype is Nissan’s first rear-wheel drive hybrid. The electric vehicle is its second original model since 2000.

Both prototypes are powered by improved lithium-ion batteries that are twice as powerful as conventional nickel-metal hydride batteries and half the size of its previous cylindrical batteries.

In 2007, Nissan tied up with NEC Corp. and established the joint venture Automotive Energy Supply Corp. to mass-produce lithium-ion batteries.

Laminated to reduce heat, the batteries are installed under the floor of the interior to leave sufficient space for the cabin and cargo areas.

Electric and hybrid prototypes are each modeled after the Cube minivan, sold only in Japan, and the Infiniti sedan.

However, “the design will be totally different” when Nissan launches the final versions in business 2010, Nissan Executive Vice President Mitsuhiko Yamashita told reporters.

MMC batteries near

Kyodo News

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and two other firms said Wednesday they will start mass producing lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles at a new factory in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture, in business 2009.

The new plant, to be completed by March 31, will produce 200,000 lithium-ion cells a year, enough to equip 2,000 of MMC’s next-generation electric vehicle, the iMiEV, according to a joint statement by the automaker, battery maker GS Yuasa Corp. and trading house Mitsubishi Corp.

Output will soon be quintupled to equip 10,000 of the models a year, due to growing demand for lithium-ion batteries, they said.

Kyoto-based Lithium Energy Japan is building the facilities in Kusatsu. The joint firm was set up in 2007 by the two Mitsubishi firms and GS Yuasa Power Supply Ltd.