Nissan ups stakes in electric car race


YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa Pref. — Nissan Motor Co. unveiled its new electric prototype Monday to be launched next year in Japan and the United States, raising the competition in electric vehicles when the market for environmentally friendly cars has already heated up with gasoline-electric hybrids.

Japan’s third-largest carmaker, which has vowed to be the leader in zero-emission cars, said the new EV is a four- to five-seat hatchback boasting high-powered batteries and a cruising range of more than 160 km.

The 24-kwh laminated compact lithium-ion battery stack will be facing off against the 16-kwh stack powering Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s i-MiEV electric that was unveiled in June.

“The era of zero-emission cars will arrive in the future. We want to contribute to it,” Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga told reporters at the firm’s Oppama plant in Yokosuka.

The new battery stack achieves twice the energy density to boost performance, compared with the conventional lithium-ion batteries used in Nissan’s “hyper mini” electric vehicles between 1998 and 2000, the company said.

On a test drive Monday, one touch of the accelerator easily pushed up the speed to a quiet 80 kph.

The prototype is based on Nissan’s Tiida sedan. The final EV body will be unveiled this Sunday, Shiga said.

When the car is launched elsewhere in 2012, one option may be to assemble it at Nissan’s Sunderland factory in northeast England, where the company announced earlier this month it will produce lithium-ion batteries, a senior Nissan official said.

Nissan also said it plans to build electric vehicles and batteries at its plant in Smyrna, Tenn., to gear up for mass-production of its core environmentally friendly cars.

In the EV market, MMC is one step ahead.

It unveiled the i-MiEV, based on the No. 4 automaker’s i series of minicars, with the 3.395-meter-long, 1.475-meter-wide car powered by 88 lithium-ion batteries.

Competition is expected to heat up.

Besides Nissan and MMC, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. said it started to deliver its Subaru Plug-in Stella electric car earlier this month.

Toyota has said it will launch an EV in the U.S. market by 2012.

Experts say, however, that EVs have several hurdles to overcome, including a high price and low infrastructure. Nissan has not yet announced the price.

The high price in general comes from the lithium-ion batteries, which are lighter and more powerful than the nickel metal hydride batteries used in most hybrids.

As for infrastructure, a high-speed device can charge 80 percent of a Nissan EV’s batteries in 30 minutes.