Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nissan Enters the PHEV Foray

As companies realize that a lot of people are tired of paying $4 a gallon for gas, they are rushing through production of alternative transportation sources. Nissan was the latest to enter announce their entrance into the Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle market.

Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn this week declared that he wants to lead the world in producing all-electric, zero-emission cars. But the head of Japan's No. 3 auto maker by sales volume is hedging his bets in the race to mass market environmentally friendly vehicles.

In an interview Wednesday with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Ghosn said not all of the electric cars Nissan manufactures will be purely electric or emission free. He said Nissan would make some models available with an optional "range extender" – a gas-powered engine that recharges the battery and allows the vehicle to continue going after the initial plug-in charge expires.

"The basis is electric, pure electric, zero emission. But you always have the possibility of having a range extender," he said.

Such a device would allow Nissan's electric car, which will be introduced in limited numbers in the U.S. and Japan by 2010 and marketed globally in 2012, to compete with rival vehicles planned by General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp.

In 2010, GM is planning to launch the Chevrolet Volt, an electric car with a gas-powered engine to recharge the battery while driving. The same year, Toyota is expected to roll out its "plug-in" Prius hybrid.

Nissan says its electric car will have a range of 100 miles on a single charge. With the range extender, the car would be able to travel an additional 300 miles before refueling or recharging.

Mr. Ghosn said that his vision is to put the world behind the wheel of a zero emission vehicle to address growing concerns tailpipe emissions about the environment. Outfitting vehicles with gas-powered range extenders would fall short of that goal, but such a compromise may help make Nissan's vehicles more appealing to consumers, who are likely to be concerned about the limited range of a purely electric car..

"The more practical solution is the hybrid. You can plug in hybrid. It's more consumer friendly," says Tatsuo Yoshida, an auto industry analyst at UBS Securities Japan in Tokyo.

Several years ago, Nissan debated over whether to pursue hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles, as Honda Motor Co. is doing, or electric cars in the U.S. market, but settled on electric cars because of the high cost of producing fuel cell vehicles and the difficulties in creating widespread hydrogen refueling points. Mr. Ghosn added that Nissan will continue to pursue fuel cell technology, which he believes is the long term solution to power vehicles in the future.
You can read more about Nissan's announcement on the Wall Street Journal.

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