Special Coverage

logoNew York Int’l Auto Show

FARMINGTON HILLS, MI – Nissan North America Inc. will be making several major announcements regarding its environmental initiatives at next month’s New York auto show, an official says.

“We’re going to be announcing the first diesel application for Nissan vehicles here in the U.S., plus our first application of clean diesel,” Mark Perry, director-Nissan sedan and cross car line product planning, says at the auto maker’s tech center here in suburban Detroit.

The auto maker also will reveal Nissan and Infiniti models capable of running on E85, a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Nissan has offered a flex-fuel version of its Titan fullsize pickup truck in the U.S. since 2005 and recently has begun sales of its flex-fuel Armada large SUV.

Perry is mum on what models will receive a diesel, but Larry Dominique, senior vice president-product planning for NNA, told journalists here last month the Titan will be the first recipient of a diesel mill.

Nissan also plans to reveal at the show an Infiniti model that will receive the auto maker’s Variable Valve Lift technology in combination with a V-6 or V-8 direct-injection gasoline engine.

Meanwhile, Perry provides a recap here of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.’s Green Program 2010, which was announced last December in Tokyo.

According to the plan, Nissan intends to explore all available alternative powertrain technologies, while at the same time focusing heavily in the near-term on improving the efficiency of the internal combustion engine.

“(ICEs) are where we need to spend a lot of our effort,” Perry says, adding they still are the dominant engine technology. Nissan is targeting a 30% improvement in fuel efficiency with its ICEs by 2010.

Perry also reiterates Nissan’s plans to have its own hybrid-electric vehicle technology available by 2010.

The auto maker, which recently launched the Altima Hybrid in the U.S., plans to wait about two years before deciding what Nissan or Infiniti models will next receive an HEV option and when it will expand hybrid sales beyond the eight states where the Altima HEV currently is sold.

“We decided to tune (the Altima Hybrid) to fit the Nissan brand, which is more about performance,” Perry says. “We’re waiting to see how the market reacts to it. And we’re working on our own system to drive costs down and improve performance, so by 2010 we’ll have another option.”

For now, he says Nissan has enough capacity at its Smyrna, TN, plant to meet demand for the Altima Hybrid but does not say how many units the auto maker expects to sell annually.

Nissan is selling its lone HEV in California and seven other states, primarily in the Northeast, that share California’s strict emission regulations.

The Altima Hybrid went on sale last month and Perry says it sold about 210 units during the last week of February, noting the auto maker is doing only local advertising to promote the car.

While Nissan is exploring a variety of technologies, including plug-in hybrids, Perry says clean diesel “definitely” is becoming a priority.

“Every time our executives go to (Washington), that’s all Congress wants to talk about,” he says.

Nissan is working with its French alliance partner Renault SA on a clean diesel engine for the U.S., and collaborating with an outside company for a truck diesel.

Perry says he doesn’t know how much each auto maker is contributing to the project. “It’s an alliance engine,” he says. “Both companies have worked on it.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com