DETROIT — Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and parent-company Renault SA team up for a far-ranging fuel cell development joint venture, says Nissan President Carlos Ghosn.

Nissan will invest more than $700 million in the fuel cell-development project, which now is in its initial stages.

The automakers are in the process of hiring several hundred engineers from all over the world to work on fuel-cell development. Whether the workers will be allocated to Paris, Japan or a completely different location is not yet known, officials say. The automakers currently are coordinating research, with plans to eventually conduct joint research.

The fuel cell collaboration is an outgrowth of Nissan's comprehensive restructuring effort, known as the Nissan Revival Plan.

As part of its Revival Plan, Nissan restructured its research and development, dividing it into three separate groups: fuel economy, intelligent transportation and fuel cells. Collaborating on high-cost, advanced technology projects has been cited as a tremendous advantage of the Nissan/Renault partnership. For example, both companies in the past had been been working separately on fuel cell initiatives.

Nissan and Renault have not established timetables to chart their progress. Nissan in the past has said it plans to have a fuel cell-powered vehicle up and running by 2005, but officials say this target now could change.

The new project will involve some Nissan and Renault suppliers but will not incorporate any other automakers. Nissan separately is involved with the California Fuel Cell Partnership, through which it collaborates with other global carmakers.

The Renault collaboration just involves fuel cells — Nissan already has its own hybrid electric vehicle (the Tino) in Japan and has worked on electric vehicles as well.

“We follow very carefully what's taking place in California,” Mr. Ghosn says. “What is the technology that will prevail in the future — nobody knows. But what you want is to make sure you are on all these technologies. If any one of these technologies makes the breakthrough, you'll be among the first ones,” says Mr. Ghosn.

He adds that the biggest challenge to automakers is not technology but costs. We have a big lesson coming from our customers,” he says. “They want protection of the environment, they want fuel-efficient cars, they want low emissions vehicles, and they want them in a very cost-competitive way.

The current goal, he says, is affordability: “That means consumers are willing to pay for it and you make some money off of it.”

Nissan sold only 100 units of its Tino hybrid. “We sold out in one day. Why? Because we're losing our shirt,” Mr. Ghosn says. “Maybe other companies can afford this. We can't.