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Nissan to sell Leaf in China in 2011

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Japan’s Nissan Motor Co will start selling its Leaf electric compact car in China early next year, a top executive said on Thursday, joining the race for green vehicles in the world’s largest auto market.

The Nissan Leaf is on display at the New York International Auto Show in New York April 1, 2010. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Nissan, 44 percent held by Renault SA, may also roll out the hybrid version of its Infiniti model in China in two or three years, Tsunehiko Nakagawa, vice president of Nissan China Investment, told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference.

The number three Japanese automaker and Renault are by far the most aggressive proponents of electric vehicle technology among major automakers globally.

The alliance had in March teamed up with the local government in Wuhan to promote zero-emission vehicles in the central Chinese city following a similar initial pact with the municipal government of Guangzhou in the south in late 2009.

“We will target the Leaf at institutional bodies like local governments initially,” Nakagawa said.

He did not provide a specific annual sales target for Leaf but said he hoped to sell “several hundred” models.

Nissan, which will begin building Leaf at its Sunderland plant in Britain from early 2013, however, does not have a time table for making the compact model in China where it runs a manufacturing venture with Dongfeng Motor Group Co.

“We want to make Leaf in China as soon as possible, but the key issue to the decision is the sales volume,” Nakagawa said.

He declined to give a price tag for the Leaf, but said it would be expensive.

Chinese car and battery maker BYD Co had late last month rolled out its plug-in hybrid car F3DM, priced at 169,800 yuan ($24,880), nearly three times as much as a normal F3 model, due to higher production cost.

BYD, backed by U.S. billionaire investor Warren Buffett, sold several hundred F3DM to government and corporate clients since December 2008.

In an effort to promote environmentally friendly vehicles and cut fuel emissions, Beijing had in 2009 unveiled a pilot scheme to subsidise the purchase of clean-energy vehicles for public transport fleets in 13 cities.

The government had in January this year promised to hand out subsidies to individual buyers in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chongqing.

“All auto manufacturers want the Chinese government to implement incentives for end users of green cars,” Nakagawa said.

Reporting by Fang Yan, Rujun Shen and Jacqueline Wong