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Nissan hopes to catch up in hybrid vehicle market

Hybrid vehicle laggard Nissan hopes to catch up with its Japanese rivals after launching the company's own green car technology next year, says an executive.

autos Updated: May 19, 2009 11:24 IST

Hybrid vehicle laggard Nissan hopes to catch up with its Japanese rivals after launching the company's own green car technology next year, an executive said on Tuesday.

Nissan Motor Co, Japan's No 3 automaker, has fallen behind its bigger rivals _ Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. _ in the increasingly competitive market for gas-electric hybrid vehicles. Toyota produces the Prius, the world's top selling hybrid, whose latest or third-generation model, went on sale Monday, offering better mileage and more size. Toyota plans to sell 10,000 in Japan a month, as well as an additional 2,000 of a cheaper old-style Prius model. The Prius is competing against Honda's smaller but cheaper Insight hybrid, which is also proving popular.

Nissan, allied with Renault SA of France, still does not have models on sale with its own hybrid system, although it sells a hybrid Altima in the US with Toyota's hybrid system. It is promising a model using its own hybrid technology for the US and Japanese markets next year.

Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga acknowledged he is often asked how Nissan hopes to compete in hybrids.

"It is not that we are not doing hybrids," he told reporters at Nissan's Tokyo headquarters. "We do accept with humility the views we are hearing from both outside and within that we lack a hybrid." Shiga defended Nissan's plans to raise mileage for standard gasoline engine and diesel vehicles and work on network technology to reduce traffic jams and fight global warming.

Hybrids and zero-emission vehicles, including electric cars and fuel-cell vehicles, are important but the other measures are also vital, he said.

Shiga was speaking after showing a new van, which has a gasoline engine but meets Japanese government standards for tax reductions for green vehicles. The NV200 Vanette goes on sale this month in Japan, is planned for Europe later this year and next year for China.

Government incentives for ecological cars, also in the works in the US and elsewhere, are likely to boost hybrid sales when the world's major auto markets are languishing amid an economic slowdown and credit crunch.

"We are confident of our ecological strategy," Shiga said.