Monday, June 9, 2008

Nissan announces 'clean diesel' SUV and Maxima

By Tomoko A. Hosaka, Associated Press Writer
(Photo credit: Yoshikazu Tsuno)

TOKYO — Nissan (NSANY) said Monday that it plans to launch a "clean diesel" SUV in Japan this fall and plans to introduce a clean-diesel version of its popular Nissan Maxima passenger car in the USA in 2010.

The automaker said it will send a prototype of its X-TRAIL SUV to next month's Group of Eight leaders' summit in Toyako, in northern Japan, where climate change tops the agenda.Delegates will be able to test drive the diesel sport-utility vehicle, which is based on technology developed with French partner Renault.

The eco-friendly "M9R" engine can deliver powerful acceleration along with emissions levels low enough to meet tougher Japanese regulations slated for October 2009, Nissan said.

While diesel vehicles are popular in Europe, Japanese and U.S. drivers have largely shunned diesel-powered cars for being too dirty, smelly and loud. Diesel cars comprise less than 1% of the Japanese passenger vehicle market, according to Nissan.

But Japanese and German automakers, who have been investing heavily in clean diesel technology, are betting consumers are ready to give next-generation diesel a chance.

Japan's third-largest carmaker decided to showcase its new diesel technology in an SUV to maximize its strengths, namely power and fuel efficiency over long distances, said Yo Usuba, Nissan's senior vice president for power train development.

"People can really enjoy driving," Usuba said of the new X-TRAIL, which can get up to 30% better mileage than its gasoline-based counterparts and has similar torque to a six-cylindar, 3.5-liter gasoline engine.

Usuba declined to provide sales projections or pricing, but said the company will monitor how receptive consumers are to the vehicle.

Japanese rival Honda Motor announced in January that its luxury Acura brand would have a clean diesel model in North America in 2009.

Nissan's push into clean diesel technology is part of the company's broader "Green 2010" plan, which it unveiled in December 2006 to catch up with rivals in green motoring technology. The initiative includes research and development of hybrids, fuel cell cars and electric vehicles.

The X-TRAIL will also be on display June 19-21 at the "Integrated Exhibition of the Environment" in Sapporo, Hokkaido, and later at the G-8 summit at Toyako July 7-9.

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