DETROIT – Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., which has a rich history of building fun-to-drive enthusiast vehicles, says it must balance its performance street credibility with an ongoing push to adopt more efficient and environmentally friendly technologies and practices.

At the core of the auto maker’s powertrain development are its two pillars: internal combustion engine and electric drivetrain, Mitsuhiko Yamashita, Nissan executive vice president-research and development, tells Ward’s at the North American International Auto Show here.

“We have a commitment to offer a trusted driving pleasure,” Yamashita says, noting that includes the development of Nissan’s own electric and hybrid-drive systems, as well as improving the efficiency of ICEs.

One modern technology absent from Nissan’s current lineup is direct gasoline injection, an advancement Yamashita says the auto maker will implement through balancing the power and efficiency gains provided by the technology.

Yamashita says the automotive industry, and Nissan in particular, will be able to improve the efficiency of conventional gasoline powerplants 30%-40% in coming years.

Highlighting the environmental pillar of the Japanese auto maker’s powertrain development is the “Nissan Green Program 2010” that calls for the continued advancement of conventional engines; the development of the auto maker’s own hybrid-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell technologies; and the creation of a joint venture to improve advanced lithium-ion battery technology.

Representing the performance side is Nissan’s continued improvement of the 3.5L VQ V-6, a 13-time Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner. The engine powers the 306-hp Infiniti G35 sports sedan and Nissan 350Z sports car and will be mated to the upcoming all-new Nissan GT-R high-performance coupe.

Yamashita confirms the latest iteration of the auto maker’s legendary GT-R sports car will debut later this year in production form at the Tokyo auto show, but declines to offer further details.

Yamashita describes Nissan’s product development process as a balancing of a 4-part model encompassing safety, environmentalism (specifically, carbon dioxide reduction), performance and cohesiveness of the vehicle’s interior.

“We remain performance-focused, but must balance customer demand (for performance) with other attributes,” Yamashita says.

msutton@wardsauto.com