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Renault/Nissan chief likes EV odds

The automaker expects to boost production as battery costs come down and sees annual sales of between 500,000 and 1 million vehicles within a few years.

Renault/Nissan expects to produce 500,000 electric cars annually worldwide at the end of 2013 and does not need a successful launch of the General Motors Volt to help spur interest in the newest green technology and sell its vehicles, Renault/Nissan's chief executive said yesterday.

Carlos Ghosn told reporters that the Nissan Leaf, the alliance's signature all-electric vehicle due out in the United States and Japan in December, will be capacity-constrained in the first years.

But the company expects to ramp up production as battery costs come down and believes that, within several years, its electric fleet can stand alone against conventionally powered cars without subsidies and at an annual sales of between 500,000 and 1 million vehicles.

Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf electric vehicle. Martin LaMonica/CNET

The figure is more ambitious than first thought and partly driven by the realization that government assistance, especially the U.S. consumer tax credit of $7,500, cannot last indefinitely.

Ghosn also said the success of the Volt, a mostly electric hybrid also due out next month, is not necessary for his company to capture the public's imagination about electric vehicles and generate sales.

"I welcome competition for electric cars. It's part of the health of our industry," Ghosn told reporters, stressing that the Leaf will attract buyers with its own attributes. "I don't think one can depend on the other."

Ghosn believes electric vehicles will account for about 10 percent of the market by the end of the decade. Gas/electric hybrids command a fractional segment now.

Renault/Nissan is not taking a stake in GM's public offering this week.

Global auto sales should grow by about 3 percent next year over 2010, Ghosn said, noting the United States, China, and India should see gains, while questions remain about Europe and Japan.

He also expects more industry consolidation through alliances and cooperative agreements partly due to a priority among automakers to be conservative with cash following the recession-fueled downturn.

Ghosn said automakers face sweeping pressures in an increasingly global and greening market. Expertise and production capacity needed to compete is varied.

Automakers, Ghosn said, cannot do everything at once to develop hybrids, electric cars, or diesel engines because of steep investment costs, time constraints, and the logistics of engineering and production.

"What you see at the top of the industry are companies coming together and trying to put synergies together," Ghosn said of deals that center on exchanges of technology and markets.