Nissan Exec: Hybrids On the Menu

Nissan Leaf

A Nissan executive has said the automaker will consider building cheaper hybrid cars as an interim measure, while its full electric vehicle rollout takes shape.

Nissan has made electric vehicles its focus so far, though it has said it will make a few hybrid versions of luxury vehicles. Its commercial electric car, on the other hand, is receiving a lot of publicity as the world’s first mass-produced EV, set for 2010 at a price of $20,000 to $30,000.

That EV is expected to go about 100 miles on a full charge, a range Nissan insists satisfies the vast majority of people’s driving needs. It intends a global rollout of multiple EVs in 2012.

But some automakers are leery of trying to sell a car that takes hours of being plugged in to do what an old-fashioned combustion engine vehicle can do in minutes at the gas station. The Renault-Nissan Alliance is working on deals with governments around the world to build fast-charging networks in hopes of solving that problem, as are others.

Automakers are increasingly splitting the difference when it comes to the hybrid/EV debate. Toyota, which will soon release a plug-in version of its top-selling Prius hybrid in 2012, also intends to build a compact, shorter-ranged EV by 2012, for example.

Ford also plans to be building plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2012, but will precede those with an all-electric commercial van in 2010 and an all-electric passenger car in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group will invest £2 billion ($3.3 billion) in new hybrids along with its long-standing work on fuel cell vehicles, in hopes of becoming a top-four green automaker by 2012, Autocar reported Monday.

Fuel cells have lost favor in comparison to plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, although Congress may give a reprieve to the U.S. fuel cell industry if it reauthorizes federal research funding that Energy Secretary Steven Chu had sought to strip from the department’s budget.

Hyundai has fuel cell prototypes in testing, and the Hyundai Kia group is launching its Avante and Forte hybrid sedans this summer, though they’re powered with liquid petroleum gas rather than gasoline. Hyundai plans a gasoline-electric hybrid next year, the New York Times reports.

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