With new hybrid, Nissan offers cheaper route to electric cars

Wed Feb 1, 2017 6:57pm EST
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By Naomi Tajitsu and Maki Shiraki

YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co has taken a step back into gasoline hybrids with its Note e-Power model, which the Japanese automaker hopes will act as a gateway for drivers who will later shift to all-electric cars.

The move will also trim Nissan's costs.

Nissan's battery-electric Leaf, the industry's first mass-market, all-electric car launched in 2010, is the world's top-selling electric vehicle (EV), but sales have failed to reach initial targets. Globally, more than 250,000 Leaf cars have been sold.

With drivers yet to be fully won over by electric cars, Nissan hopes its new "near-electric" hybrid - which shares some parts with the Leaf - will allow it to shave costs and fend off competition in developing cheaper electric cars.

It's a reversal of sorts for Nissan. When it developed the Leaf, CEO Carlos Ghosn signaled Nissan would leapfrog gasoline-hybrid technology and go straight to battery-powered cars with zero emissions.

That has left it trailing rivals including Toyota Motor Corp in hybrids, a segment between gasoline-powered cars and EVs. Toyota has sold more than 9 million hybrids since it launched the Prius in 1997.

"We can't avoid the fact that EVs remain expensive compared with conventional gasoline vehicles, while there's also an ongoing assumption that EVs aren't suited to traveling long ranges," Hideyuki Sakamoto, a Nissan executive vice president, told Reuters.

For a graphic on the global electric vehicle market, click tmsnrt.rs/2kpOFLL   Continued...

Nissan Executive Vice President Hideyuki Sakamoto poses with the hybrid version of Nissan Note, which uses the carmaker's  e-Power system, in the showroom at the carmaker's headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, January 13, 2017. Picture taken January 13, 2017.    REUTERS/Toru Hanai