Nissan starts production of zero-emission Leaf electric car

Nissan said Friday it had started producing its Leaf electric car in Japan as it prepares to put it on sale at home and in the United States in December.

Nissan, which is part-owned by Renault of France, has billed the Leaf - short for Leading Environmentally-friendly Affordable Family car - as the world's first mass-produced electric vehicle (EV).

"This is a significant milestone, not only for Nissan and the Renault-Nissan alliance, but also for the entire automotive industry," said Nissan president and CEO Carlos Ghosn at a ceremony in Japan.

"Consumers are clear. They want sustainable and affordable mobility... and the alliance is leading the way with cars that deliver exactly that, with the reliability, excitement and performance that consumers demand."

He pledged the Leaf "will radically transform what consumers expect from automobile manufacturers worldwide".

Nissan has gambled that its EVs will take off globally and overcome consumer concerns such as "range-anxiety", or the fear that their cars will run out of juice between electric charging points.

To promote its EVs and set up charging stations, Nissan says it has signed 80 partnerships worldwide with governments, municipalities and companies.

The five-seater hatchback, with a top speed above 140 kilometres (90 miles) per hour, has a range of 160 kilometres and can be recharged in eight hours, or rapid-charged to 80 percent of capacity in 30 minutes.

Its lithium-ion batteries are manufactured in a joint-venture between Nissan and Japanese electronics giant NEC Corporation.

Having kicked off Leaf production at its plant in Yokosuka southwest of Tokyo, Nissan plans to also start rolling out the EVs from a US plant in Tennessee in late 2012 and a factory in Sunderland, England, from early 2013.

The Leaf is due to go on sale in December in Japan and the United States, and from early 2011 in several European markets.

Ghosn said in May that the first year of production had already sold out. Nissan has reported receiving 20,000 orders for the Leaf in the US alone.

Nissan, which is about 45 percent owned by Renault, predicts electric cars will account for 10 percent of global sales by 2020.

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