YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Nissan Motor Co. will introduce two new technologies this year to move the needle on CEO Carlo Ghosn's goal of making Nissan a leader in electric vehicles and self-driving cars.
The first is a new range extender that Nissan says will tackle two of the biggest hurdles confronting electric vehicles: cost and limited range.
The other is the first deployment of Nissan's upcoming autonomous-drive technologies: a single-lane self-driving steering feature.
Both technologies will debut in Japan-market vehicles in the current fiscal year ending March 31, 2017. The company will subsequently introduce the autonomous-drive function in the U.S., Europe and China.
Nissan has not announced a plan for introducing the range extender to other markets.
Ghosn outlined the technology at the company's annual shareholders' meeting on June 22. Ghosn is positioning autonomous driving capabilities and electrified vehicles, such as Nissan's signature Leaf EV, as two pillars of his push to make the carmaker a global technology powerhouse.
The new hybrid system, dubbed e-Power, debuted as a concept in the sporty Gripz compact crossover shown last fall at the Frankfurt auto show.
Using a system similar to that in the Leaf's primary U.S. competitor, the gasoline-electric Chevrolet Volt, Nissan's e-Power will use a small engine to generate electricity that charges an onboard battery. The battery, in turn, powers an electric motor that turns the wheels.
Ghosn said the technology will be deployed first in a "new compact car."
"This new electric vehicle will meet consumer demand for greater autonomy and fuel efficiency," he said, acknowledging the issues that have limited the adoption of pure EVs.
"It will utilize a new e-Power system that matches the agility, quietness, strong acceleration and efficiency of the Nissan Leaf."
Its biggest difference from the Leaf will be the engine. When the proposed new car's battery runs low, a gasoline engine will kick in to recharge it, giving the car a longer range.
Nissan's adoption of the technology may be seen as tacit acceptance that General Motors' solution for electrified driving is more practical than the pure-electric Leaf.
In the U.S., Leaf sales dropped 39 percent to 4,697 units through May. Sales of the Volt were up 79 percent to 7,871, though its sales were buoyed by the arrival of a redesigned second generation late last year.
The Leaf has not had a full redesign since its 2010 introduction.
Toshiyuki Nakajima, a manager at Nissan's advanced vehicle engineering department, said the e-Power system has several advantages.
The system should be less expensive because its battery doesn't need to store as much power as a pure EV battery does, and so it can be smaller, he said.
Similarly, the engine doesn't need to be as big as on a traditional gasoline-powered car. The engine on the range-extender hybrid will serve only as a generator and can be tuned to continuously operate within it range of peak efficiency.
"We want to simplify the system," Nakajima said.
Nissan also plans the first step of a three-stage ramp up to urban autonomous driving in 2020.
Dubbed ProPilot, the new technology will allow automated driving and steering around curves within a single lane on highways and in stop-and-go traffic. Nissan has not said in what vehicle the technology will debut.
"The newest version of this technology will make driving safer and more efficient by offering automated, single-lane controls," Ghosn said.
Nissan plans to build on ProPilot with a more advanced system due around 2018 that will allow automated driving across multiple lanes.
The rollout will culminate in a sophisticated autonomous driving system that will allow "intersection autonomy" by around 2020, according to the company. That function will allow cars to navigate city intersections and urban traffic without driver intervention, Nissan promises.
Nissan and its global alliance partner, Renault SA, say they plan to launch more than 10 vehicles with autonomous driving technology in the next four years.