Nissan, Nec to Produce Electric-car Batteries

By: Lauren Woods

The Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. and NEC, a leading electronics maker, announced last Friday that they will produce ecologically friendly batteries for automobiles. The move is anchored on the automaker's desire to catch up with rivals in the industry that have already started in green technology.

Japan's third largest automaker and NEC are investing 490 million yen ($4.1 million; 3 million euros) to set up a joint venture by the end of this month so as to produce lithium-ion batteries for green vehicles, including electric cars and hybrids by 2009. The information was divulged by the companies Friday.

Evidently, Nissan has fallen behind Japanese rivals the Toyota Motor Corp. and the Honda Motor Co. in developing hybrids and other ecologically friendly technologies that slash gas emissions blamed for global warming. Tokyo-based Nissan has started selling hybrid cars like the Altima. Nonetheless, the automaker licenses the technology from Toyota. Hybrids switch between an electric motor and a gas engine to deliver reduced CO2 emissions and better mileage.

But the Tokyo-based automaker has developed what it said was a superior auto battery technology with NEC, said Carlos Tavares who is Nissan's executive vice president. The automaker intends to unveil its original hybrid vehicle by 2010 as well as the original next-generation electric vehicle in the early part of the next decade. "Together Nissan and NEC's engineers have addressed the key challenges of cost, performance, safety and reliability. We believe that we have a breakthrough technology: the lithium-ion battery produce we will produce," Tavares said.

Lithium-ion batteries, also called and commonly known as Li-ion batteries, are common in portable electronics such as laptops and cell phones. But they have yet to be fully adapted to the more rigorous demands of a car engine. At present, these batteries are built to match auto parts like the and other trusted car systems.

Hybrids from Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., Ltd. use nickel-metal hydride batteries. But Detroit automakers like General Motors Corp. are working on lithium-ion batteries for vehicles. According to Nissan, the battery product from NEC and Nissan will be made available to all automakers. "Co-development with Nissan has enabled a superior-class battery that we expect to spread in the market at an unmatched speed," NEC Executive Vice President Konosuke Kashima said.

Nissan will have a 50 percent stake in Automotive Energy Supply Corp. which is the companies' new joint venture, while NEC and subsidiary and battery maker NEC Tokin Corp. own a combined fifty percent.

Sales of hybrids and cars that offer other environmentally friendly technology are still a fraction of standard models. Both Toyota and Honda have seen their brand image get better from introducing advances such as the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic hybrids. Sales of Toyota and Honda small cars have increased in the America and other overseas markets lately. The demand is anchored on the soaring oil prices.

Nissan was near bankruptcy before entertaining an alliance with Renault SA of France in 1999. Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive at Renault and Nissan, who led the revival, in the past has played down the vitality of hybrids, which are expensive to develop and take time to catch on. Ghosn has emphasized innovations in gas engines, while saying Nissan was working on its own hybrid technology.

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