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May 9, 2008

THE WEEK THAT WAS: The voltswagen moves closer

Electric cars - and hybrids - were very much in just-auto's news this week.

Electric cars – and hybrids – were very much in just-auto’s news this week.

First off was Nissan’s president and CEO Carlos Ghosn who said the automaker would start selling electric cars in the US in 2010. “We’ve decided on electric,” he said, adding that the line-up would have “mass-market” appeal.

If they’re anything like the company’s eight-US-states-only Altima hybrid, which uses, ahem, Toyota’s technology, these will be nice cars. There’s little to distinguish the petrol-electric Altima – sold only where California emissions standards apply – inside or out from the regular petrol model and performance, refinement, cabin material quality and build are all excellent.

Several of us who tried it at Nissan’s 60-global-market-vehicle ride ‘n’ drive event in Portugal were also impressed at how far and how fast you could run it on battery power only. That’d also come in handy for sneaking up one’s driveway late at night…

Referring to previously-announced projects for Alliance partner Renault to sell electric cars in Israel and Denmark (both from 2011), Ghosn said “companies, governments and cities – all are interested in electric cars.”

He would not give details but said even one “Gulf state” had begun negotiations to launch electric cars. Such was the demand for oil, the state was looking to diminish some of its own needs for the fuel.

Ghosn said Nissan would position the electric as “the car of the 21st” century. It would have a “nice design and be good to drive”. The battery and car in total had to be cheaper to buy and run than a petrol model, too.

Speaking of batteries, Audi and Japanese electronics giant Sanyo are planning to work together on a new pilot hybrid project for the Volkswagen Group.

According to a German newspaper report this week, the pair plan to work on high performance batteries as part of a EUR1bn project.

An alliance could lead to Sanyo batteries and other electronic components being fitted in future Volkswagen group models.

Staying in Germany, came news that Opel was planning to build two electric cars in Germany.

GM chief executive Rick Wagoner told a weekly trade paper that part of GM’s recently announced US$1bn investment in Opel would include other models based on the E-Flex architecture, as well as the Flextreme concept shown at the Frankfurt motor show last year.

The E-Flex programme is based on the Chevrolet Volt concept due in production at the end of 2010.

The E-Flex principle uses lithium-ion batteries to give the vehicle a range of 35 miles/60km. The batteries could be charged at home or by an on-board generator which could be a small combustion engine or a fuel cell.

The Opel models would be built in Germany and use GM’s Global Compact architecture that will form the basis of the next generation Astra.

Back with Nissan, just-auto had a chance to chat with the European sales and marketing chief about the drastic changes made to the model line-up in the last few years. It paid off to the extent that there is still a waiting list for a popular crossover over a year after launch but he did admit he had the dealers a bit worried for a while there – until they started to see a return on the investment asked.

Now under SAIC control, MG owners Nanjing have announced yet another date for the start of production of an updated TF roadster in the UK. August this year will be 15 months after the original May ’07 ceremony to mark the so-called “start” that has yet to deliver a saleable car to a UK dealer. Follow the link in this story for news of the four-model plan as well.

NAC MG UK said “the commitment planned by MG and the level of investment underwritten by SAIC will persuade doubters that the MG brand is being re-launched with the support to make it successful again”.

We’ll see.

Enjoy your weekend,

Graeme Roberts
Deputy Editor
just-auto.com

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