Nissan said Monday it plans to launch its first "clean diesel" vehicle in Japan this fall and will send a prototype to next month's Group of Eight leaders' summit, where climate change tops the agenda.
Delegates attending the G-8 meeting in Toyako, in northern Japan, will be able to test drive Nissan's X-TRAIL diesel, a sport utility vehicle based on technology co-developed with French partner Renault SA.
The eco-friendly "M9R" engine can deliver powerful acceleration along with emissions levels low enough to meet tougher Japanese regulations slated for October 2009, Nissan said.
While diesel vehicles are popular in Europe, Japanese and American drivers have largely shunned diesel-powered cars for being too dirty, smelly and loud. Diesel cars comprise less than 1 percent of the Japanese passenger vehicle market, according to Nissan.
But Japanese and German automakers, who have been investing heavily in clean diesel technology, are betting that consumers are ready to give next-generation diesel a chance.
Japan's third-largest carmaker decided to showcase its new diesel technology in an SUV to maximize its strengths, namely power and good fuel efficiency over long distances, said Yo Usuba, Nissan's senior vice president for power train development.
"People can really enjoy driving," Usuba said of the new X-TRAIL, which can get up to 30 percent better gas mileage than its gasoline-based counterparts and similar torque levels to a six-cylindar, 3.5-liter gasoline engine.
Usuba declined to provide sales projections or pricing, but said the company will be monitoring how receptive consumers are to the vehicle.
Along with the X-TRAIL, Nissan has said it plans to introduce a clean-diesel version of its popular Nissan Maxima in the United States in 2010.
Japanese rival Honda Motor Co. announced in January that its luxury Acura brand would launch a clean diesel model in North America in 2009.
Nissan's push into clean diesel technology is part of the company's broader "Green 2010" plan, which it unveiled in December 2006 to catch up with rivals in green motoring technology. The initiative includes research and development of hybrids, fuel cell cars and electric vehicles.
The X-TRAIL will also be on display June 19-21 at the "Integrated Exhibition of the Environment" in Sapporo, Hokkaido, and later at the site of the G-8 summit at Toyako on July 7-9.
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