IMAGE: NISSAN, NEC EXECUTIVES
Koji Sasahara  /  AP
Nissan and NEC executives celebrate their joint venture with a model battery pack in front of them at a Tokyo press conference Monday.
updated 5/19/2008 4:10:32 PM ET 2008-05-19T20:10:32

Nissan's joint venture with electronics maker NEC Corp. will invest $115 million to start mass-producing lithium-ion batteries — a technology widely viewed as key for next-generation "green" cars.

Nissan Motor Co. Executive Vice President Carlos Tavares told reporters Monday the Japanese automaker wants to be a global leader in "zero-emission vehicles."

Lithium-ion batteries are now more common in laptops and other gadgets, although all the world's major automakers are working on applying the batteries for their cars.

The new batteries will be more powerful — and half the size — of nickel-metal hydride batteries that are now commonly used in hybrid cars today, Nissan officials said.

Nissan's joint venture called Automotive Energy Supply Corp. plans to make advanced lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, hybrids and fuel cells — all important technology to reduce pollution as well as gases linked to global warming.

"Nissan firmly believes the ultimate solution for sustainable mobility lies in zero-emission vehicles," Tavares said at a Tokyo hotel.

2009 start date for factory
A plant for the batteries, set to be running by 2009, will have annual production capacity of 65,000, and starting capacity of 13,000, Nissan said. The investment will cover three years, it said.

The first commercial products with the new batteries are Nissan forklifts in 2009, but electric vehicles for the U.S. and Japanese market will follow in 2010, Tavares said.

Tokyo-based Nissan has been sometimes criticized as falling behind Japanese rivals such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. in ecological technology.

Toyota has a big hit with its gas-electric hybrid, Prius, which has already crossed the 1 million sales mark worldwide over the decade it has been on sale. Honda also has its own hybrid and fuel-cell models.

Nissan has said it will introduce its own hybrid in 2010, besides the electric vehicles planned for the U.S. and Japan.

By 2012, Nissan plans to mass-market electric vehicles to consumers globally. It is also planning to make available on a wide scale zero-emission electric vehicles in Israel and Denmark in 2011.

Nissan said it will market its lithium-ion battery to other automakers and customers, an effort that will help cut costs by boosting production numbers.

Toyota to mass produce as well
But Nissan has competition in this race. Toyota has said it will start mass-producing lithium-ion batteries for plug-in hybrids in the next few years. Japan's top automaker is working with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which makes Panasonic brand products.

Massive global recalls in recent years of laptops reportedly suspected of catching on fire because of faulty lithium-ion batteries have raised fears about their safety.

Nissan said it did tests to ensure safety, performance and reasonable costs of its new battery. Nissan declined to give details of the electric cars in the works, including pricing. The joint venture is 51 percent owned by Nissan and 49 percent by NEC and its subsidiary.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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