• The Associated Press


Nissan is tying up with electronics maker NEC to produce batteries for ecologically friendly vehicles, the companies said Friday, signaling efforts by the automaker to catch up with rivals that have a head start in green technology.

Nissan Motor Co., Japan’s No. 3 automaker, and NEC Corp. are investing 490 million yen to set up a joint venture by month’s end to produce lithium-ion batteries for environmentally friendly vehicles, including electric cars and hybrids, by 2009, they said in a statement.

Nissan has fallen behind Japanese rivals Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. in developing hybrids and other ecological technologies that reduce gas emissions blamed for global warming.

Tokyo-based Nissan has started selling hybrid cars, including the Altima, but licenses the technology from Toyota. Hybrids switch between a gas engine and electric motor to deliver better mileage and a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

But Nissan has developed what it said was a superior auto battery technology with NEC, Executive Vice President Carlos Tavares said.

Nissan plans to introduce its original hybrid vehicle by 2010, and an original next-generation electric vehicle in the early part of the next decade, he said.

“Together Nissan and NEC’s engineers have addressed the key challenges of cost, performance, safety and reliability. We believe that we have a breakthrough technology: the lithium-ion battery we will produce,” Tavares said.

Lithium-ion batteries are common in gadgets such as laptops and cell phones but have yet to be fully adapted to the more rigorous demands of a car engine.

Hybrids from Toyota and Honda use nickel-metal hydride batteries, although automakers, including General Motors Corp. of the U.S., are working on lithium-ion batteries for vehicles.

The battery product from NEC and Nissan will be made available to all automakers, Nissan said.

“Codevelopment with Nissan has enabled a superior-class battery that we expect to spread in the market at an unmatched speed,” NEC Executive Vice President Konosuke Kashima said.

Nissan will have a 50 percent stake in Automotive Energy Supply Corp., the new joint venture, while NEC and subsidiary and battery maker NEC Tokin Corp. own a combined 50 percent.

Although sales of hybrids and cars boasting other environmentally friendly technology are still a fraction of standard models, both Toyota and Honda have seen their brand image improve from promoting such advances, including the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrids.

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