Nissan seeks US gov't loans for electric cars

WASHINGTON Mon Feb 9, 2009 7:55pm EST

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WASHINGTON Feb 9 (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) has applied for U.S. government financing to help it make electric vehicles and develop the advanced batteries that power them, the company said on Monday.

Nissan, which announced plans earlier in the day to cut 20,000 jobs worldwide in response to declining sales blamed on recession, is the first Japanese automaker to seek taxpayer-funded loans from the Energy Department to facilitate its U.S. manufacturing plans.

Nissan did not disclose the amount of its loan request, which was submitted in December but disclosed publicly by the company on Monday.

Energy Department officials do not confirm or comment on specific applicants. But Nissan said it plans to upgrade its Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant, and build a new facility for battery production.

Nissan plans to bring an electric car to the United States by 2010.

"We are committed to the vision of energy independence, environmental sustainability, and the new energy economy, and we are hopeful that the U.S. Department of Energy approves this loan request," the company said in a statement.

The loan program approved by Congress in September was established mainly to help struggling U.S. manufacturers make upgrades necessary for producing cars and trucks that can meet sharply higher fuel standards next decade.

General Motors Corp (GM.N), Ford Motor Co (F.N) and Chrysler LLC have asked for nearly $22 billion in financing combined. Honda Motor Co Ltd's (7267.T) and Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) have not sought help, officials of both companies said.

Toyota currently is the global leader in gasoline-electric hybrid sales.

GM plans to roll out its plug-in electric/hybird Chevrolet Volt to consumers next year. Toyota, Ford and Chrysler all have electric car ambitions.

Energy Department loan eligibility requirements favor companies operating facilities older than 20 years, which gives U.S. manufacturers a clear edge in gaining retooling money as long as their proposals meet other requirements. New projects are also considered. Nissan's Tennessee plant began operations in 1983.

So far, the Energy Department has received 75 applications and Nissan is among 26 that have cleared initial hurdles, the company said. (Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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