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Nissan to Make Hybrid Cars in U.S.

Sales of the fuel-efficient vehicles more than doubled during the first five months of this year.

June 18, 2005|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

Nissan Motor Co. said Friday that it would build its first gas-electric hybrid passenger vehicle, an Altima sedan, at its Smyrna, Tenn., manufacturing plant next year.

The hybrid Altima will use technology developed by Toyota Motor Co. to mate an electric drive system to a four-cylinder, Nissan-built gasoline engine. The hybrid's electric system is expected to give the car better fuel economy than a conventional four-cylinder Altima but with the performance of a six-cylinder gas-powered model.

It will be the third hybrid built in the U.S. -- Ford Motor Co. already builds the Escape sport utility vehicle hybrid -- and Toyota recently announced that it would build a hybrid Camry sedan in the U.S. beginning next year.

Gardena-based Nissan North America has not yet established pricing for the new car, which will go into production late next year as a 2007 model. Hybrids typically carry a premium of about $3,000 over their conventional counterparts, and a regular Altima with a V-6 engine has a base price of $24,530.

Nissan's contract with Toyota for hybrid components limits it to a maximum of 50,000 units a year. Nissan isn't expected to dramatically restyle the hybrid version of the Altima, and that could affect sales.

Hybrids have caught on in the last year as gasoline prices have climbed: U.S. drivers purchased 73,335 hybrid cars and SUVs though May, compared with 30,194 for the first five months of 2004. Toyota's Prius is the most popular model, accounting for 59% of this year's hybrid sales.

The only conventionally styled hybrid cars in the market, the gas-electric Honda Civic and Accord models, have not matched the popularity of the more futuristic-looking Prius. Honda this week announced that it would redesign its Civic hybrid to try to make it stand out.

Nissan also builds the standard Altima, the Maxima sedan, Xterra and Pathfinder SUVs and the mid-size Frontier pickup at the Smyrna plant.

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