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Nissan unveils electric zero-emission hatchback

Nissan Motor Co's chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn introducing the company's prototype of the first mass-volume electric car "Leaf" during an opening ceremony at the company's new global headquarters in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan yesterday.

Nissan Motor Co's chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn introducing the company's prototype of the first mass-volume electric car "Leaf" during an opening ceremony at the company's new global headquarters in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan yesterday.

Nissan Motor Co took the wraps off its much-awaited electric car yesterday, naming the hatchback "Leaf" and taking a step towards its goal of leading the industry in the zero-emissions field.

Japan's No. 3 automaker and its French partner, Renault SA, have been the most aggressive pro-ponents of pure electric vehicles in the auto industry, announcing plans to mass-market the clean but expensive cars globally in 2012.

Nissan will begin selling the first Leaf cars in the United States, Japan and Europe towards the end of 2010, adding two more models soon after. It expects production to start with around 200,000 units a year at the global roll-out in 2012.

Twinning the car's unveiling with the inauguration of Nissan's new global headquarters in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn drove up to a stage in a sky-blue Leaf prototype, carrying former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and two other guests to greet a throng of journalists who made the trip from all over the world.

"We celebrate today the start of a new chapter of our company's life," Mr Ghosn said.

Nissan is returning to the port city of Yokohama, where it was founded in 1933, after being based in Tokyo's posh Ginza district for the last 41 years.

Hit by sliding vehicle sales worldwide since the financial crisis hit last year, Nissan has suspended its goals set under a mid-term business plan, with the exception of its aggressive push into the electric car business.

With oil prices topping $60 even in a recession and environmental regulations tightening all the time, Mr Ghosn said he was optimistic about electric vehicles entering the mainstream, expecting them to represent one in 10 new cars globally by 2020.

"We are seeing electric cars not as a niche car but as a mass-market car," he told reporters after the inauguration.

"The big problem is going to be (production) capacity."

Mr Ghosn described the Leaf as a "powerful car, like having a turbo" charger except with no delay in response since there is no gear shift. He stressed that despite the growing popularity of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles in some markets, they remained a niche with less than two per cent of the global market.

Other automakers such as Toyota Motor Corp and Volkswagen AG have also announced plans to launch electric cars in the next several years, but they say it could take decades for the vehicles to spread due to their high cost, limited driving range and long charging times with the current battery technology.

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