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Nissan picks Thailand as first export market for unique hybrid

Automaker positions e-Power cars as alternative to electrics in Southeast Asia

Bangkok during rush hour. Nissan will bring its own gasoline-electric hybrids to Thailand, which is promoting low-emission vehicles. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

TOKYO -- Nissan Motor will release a car powered by its proprietary hybrid drive system in Thailand next year, marking the automaker's first time selling the alternative to electric vehicles outside Japan.

The e-Power system uses the gasoline engine solely to charge the battery for the electric motor that turns the wheels. This setup, different from hybrids like Toyota Motor's Prius, combines the range of conventional vehicles and the acceleration of electric cars.

The drive system will make its overseas debut in the Note hatchback in Thailand. Nissan intends to expand sales of the car to other markets in Southeast Asia, where it sees a lack of charging stations holding back the spread of electric vehicles like the automaker's own mass-market Leaf. It aims to bring the Note to China by 2022. 

The e-Power system debuted in Japan in 2016 with the Note and was extended to the Serena minivan this March. e-Power versions have accounted for about 60% of the Note's subsequent sales, and roughly 40% for the Serena.

Nissan will ship the Note from Japan but will also consider local production eventually based on how well the car sells in Thailand and investment incentives. Thai government policies encouraging low-emission eco-cars will help keep prices down for buyers.

While China and Europe are promoting the use of fully electric cars with tougher emissions standards and sales quotas, Nissan also seeks to capture demand in markets not yet ready for that change.

The alliance of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors aims to sell 14 million vehicles in 2022, with electrics and hybrids constituting roughly 30% of the total.

The partners will share technologies to boost their lineups. Mitsubishi Motors will provide plug-in hybrid technology from its Outlander sport utility vehicle to Renault, which plans to release a plug-in hybrid in Europe in 2021 or 2022. Renault has enjoyed rising sales of the Zoe electric in Europe.

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