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Nissan Aims to Recast Image With High-Tech Electric Cars

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—Nissan Motor Co.’s 7201.TO -0.61% reputation as a top auto maker once was cast in the horsepower, speed and style of its “Z” sports cars. No more. The Japanese company wants its image defined by a coming electric car that drives itself.

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Car makers are shifting to driverless technology and safety. Above, Nissan shows its self-driving Leaf electric.

Nissan’s decision to highlight its foray into autonomous, zero-emission driving at a lavishly staged program here says a lot about how the auto industry is rapidly changing in the era of Tesla-mania.

Like most of its rivals, the 80-year-old company is caught between its past—defined by gasoline fumes, horsepower and revolutions per minute—and a future vision of mobility that is coolly electronic, computerized and to a great extent petroleum-free.

Nissan Executive Vice President Andy Palmer says Nissan’s commitment to start selling self-driving cars by 2020 springs from a broader belief that today’s 20- and 30-somethings, its key future customers, are fundamentally different from today’s car buyers.


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