* Nissan aiming for mass-market lead in electric cars
* First zero emission cars on sale in Japan, U.S. next year
* Tennessee plant seen starting assembly in 2011 or 2012
YOKOHAMA, Japan, June 23 (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) said on Tuesday it expected to build more than 100,000 electric vehicles a year when it starts U.S. production of the zero-emission vehicles at its plant in Smyrna, Tennessee in two to three years time.
Nissan, Japan’s No. 3 automaker, plans to begin selling its first zero-emission cars in the United States and Japan in 2010, followed by a global roll-out in 2012 to take the lead in a field that no mass-market maker has entered in big volumes.
“We have a different strategy from other manufacturers when it comes to electric cars,” Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan and French partner Renault (RENA.PA), told a news conference after Nissan’s annual shareholders’ meeting.
“You have to go mass-market to get the cost benefit,” he said, adding that he expected assembly, along with the production of batteries, in the United States to start in 2011 or 2012.
Japanese rivals Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) and Honda Motor Co (7267.T) have focused their fuel-saving technologies on gasoline-electric hybrids, notably the Prius and the Insight, while General Motors GMGMQ.PK is aiming to launch its plug-in Chevy Volt in 2010.
Nissan in December applied for U.S. government financing to help it make electric vehicles and develop the advanced batteries that power them.
Ghosn said he expected a decision from the government on the Energy Department loans soon, after various reports that an announcement would be made later on Tuesday.
Ghosn repeated that for the zero-emission cars to be accepted widely, they would have to be affordable to consumers, although that would depend largely on how generous the incentives from governments are.
“Little by little we’re seeing a lot of interest from cities and government,” he said.
At the annual general meeting earlier, Ghosn told shareholders — many of whose questions focused on Nissan’s EV and hybrid strategy — that Nissan had signed 27 initial agreements with governments and agencies to help it roll out electric cars.
Nissan and Renault are each planning three electric vehicle models for initial mass production. (Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Lincoln Feast)