Nissan to test electric cars in Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tennessee Wed Jul 23, 2008 1:42am BST

The Nissan Denki Cube electric concept car is shown at the 2008 New York International Auto Show March 19, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The Nissan Denki Cube electric concept car is shown at the 2008 New York International Auto Show March 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co has formed a partnership with Tennessee to study the infrastructure needed to support the roll-out of electric cars starting in 2011, Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said on Tuesday.

"We are forming a partnership with the state of Tennessee to promote zero-emission mobility," Ghosn said at the opening of the Japanese automaker's new headquarters in Nashville.

The tie-up will include the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federally controlled utility that ranks as the nation's largest, supplying electricity to residents in seven states.

Nissan, which trails Japanese rivals Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co in hybrid technology, has made it a priority to become a leader in the still emerging market for fully electric vehicles.

By 2010, Nissan plans to start testing an all-new electric car being developed in Japan. It is aiming for global sales of the still-unnamed, battery-powered car by 2012.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said state agencies would look at how to support Nissan's electric car development efforts, including the possibility of setting up charging stations.

The partnership is one of several between automakers, electric power utilities and government agencies. Ford Motor Co and General Motors Corp both have tie-ups with the utility industry to cooperate in electric vehicle development.

Ghosn signed a similar deal earlier this month with Portugal that would create a national recharging network. Nissan and its French alliance partner Renault SA also have similar tie-ups with Israel and Denmark.

Speaking to reporters, Ghosn said such government partnerships would provide a crucial boost for electric cars at a time of soaring gasoline prices.

"We are seeing a lot of political interest, which is very supportive," Ghosn said. "What's driving zero-emissions today are cities and countries. It's not companies."

Ghosn said Nissan's new electric car would have no back-up combustion engine, making it a zero-emission vehicle that would comply with the type California has mandated.

"I am insisting that I want a pure electric car," Ghosn said, adding that Nissan's car would be an all-new, small car built for more than just limited city driving.

Ghosn also said he wanted to take Nissan into "the battery business," opening the prospect that it could supply other automakers with next-generation lithium-ion battery packs from a joint venture with Japan's NEC Corp.

Ghosn's backing for pure electric cars sets Nissan off against the strategy of its larger rivals.

Honda is concentrating on its next-generation hybrid models. GM, meanwhile, is racing Toyota to bring the first mass-market rechargeable hybrid cars to market by 2010.

GM's Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid, is being designed to have a 40-mile (60 kilometer) battery-powered range with an onboard gas engine that will be used to recharge the battery for longer trips.

Toyota is planning similar tests with a plug-in version of its market-leading Prius hybrid.

Ghosn also serves as the chief executive of Renault, which has a controlling 44-percent stake in Nissan.

(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki: editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Leslie Gevirtz)

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