Nissan Motor Europe capped off a week of electric vehicle plan presentations to journalists at its Swiss headquarters with the Monday morning announcement of plans to build lithium-ion battery plants in Portugal and the UK as part of its zero emission mobility programme.

“The governments of the two countries have offered financial assistance and other support to secure the investment recognising the contribution that the plants are likely to make to the long term health of both the national and regional economies by being central to the growth of the automotive and associated industries, boosting jobs and pioneering the manufacture and sale of zero emission vehicles in Europe,” Nissan said in a statement.

Earlier officials had told just-auto that Portugal was particularly keen on EVS and had committed to buy them for at least 20% of publicly owned vehicles from 2011, promised EV buyers tax breaks of at least EUR4,000 and promised a 1350-point nationwide charging network including 750 points in Lisbon and 400 in Porto by 2011 when Nissan’s first EV – a C-segment sized five-door hatchback – goes on sale across the continent.

The UK, home to Nissan’s main European passenger car assembly plant, was also described as a ‘key’ EV market, not least because of the enthusiasm of officials in London and the north-east, where a variety of infrastructure partnerships are in progress.

The UK battery site will be in Sunderland near the car plant and this facility will become the automaker’s European ‘mother site for battery production’ and the centrepiece of the newly established Low Carbon Economic Area in the north east of England.

UK prime minister Gordon Brown said: “Nissan’s investment in a new battery plant and its hope to start producing electric vehicles in Sunderland is great news for the local economy, creating up to 350 direct jobs and creating and safeguarding hundreds more in the associated supply chain.

“Sunderland could now be a strong contender to produce electric vehicles for Nissan in Europe, and we will continue to work with Nissan to ensure this happens.”

As part of the newly established low carbon economic area, the government intends to establish a new training centre, specialising in low carbon automotive technologies; a technology park and an open access test track for low carbon vehicles.

In Portugal several possible sites for the battery plant have been identified and the final selection will be announced later. Last November, Portugal became the first European country to sign a final agreement with the Renault-Nissan alliance for implementing a zero emission mobility programme from 2010.

On 29 June the Portuguese government signed an agreement with 25 cities and key motorways and parking companies aiming the implementation of a recharging network that will secure a full coverage of the country. Additionally it was presented the prototype of those recharging stations. This advanced station has been developed by a Portuguese consortium in collaboration with Nissan.

Portuguese prime minister Jose Sócrates said: “Portugal is one of the first countries in the world to have a national wide charging network for Electric Vehicles, named Mobi-E. This leadership has only been possible thanks to Portugal’s decisive move towards renewable energies – 43% of electricity consumed is produced from clean energies. The introduction of EV will allow the reduction of CO2 emissions and fossil fuel energy dependence on [other countries].”

The two plants are scheduled to supply the advanced lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles to be produced by the Renault-Nissan alliance. The projected annual capacity for each plant is 60,000 units.

Nissan said its European EV would be built on a modified B-platform and have a range of 160km (100 miles) and a top speed of “over 140km/h”. Initial production cars would not have the fast-changeover facility for the battery pack Renault plans under some of its Better place partnerships but could be modified to allow this later. The new car will be unveiled at the end of August in Japan and launched in Europe in 2011. Nissan ultimately will offer a full line of EVs here, officials promised.

Battery technology advances are expected to improve range and the company is in talks about charging infrastructure continent-wide. Options will include home charging, public kerbside units, dedicated chargers in places such as shopping malls and parking structures and, eventually, inductive charging while driving.

The company expects regional and local governments in particular will move to offer incentives to EV drivers such as parking/charging spots closer to buildings and dedicated facilities at the likes of park-and-ride to encourage the use of integrated private and public transport.

Acknowledging that the initial 160km range may be too little for some trips, the company has also formed a partnership with rental car operator Europcar and expects this to allow potential buyers to try EVs before buying and also to hire, at preferential rates, conventional vehicles for those occasional long trips.

Nissan’s own research in Europe suggests 47% of potential buyers would at least consider buying an EV and that a majority (92%) have a daily usage pattern (under 150km) that would suit a 160km range.

The production car would have a sophisticated telematics system that could remotely transmit charge status to an owner, upload usage data to a central server for analysis and comparison with other users (Nissan will operate an online EV owners ‘club’ with opt-out) and allow an owner to remotely pre-heat the car ahead of use.

Nissan stressed its focus on EVs did not rule out its using other technologies, such as hybrids, as well.

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