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Nissan Motor Co. is aiming to be the world's No. 1 in green cars, targeting cumulative sales of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles by 2017 with alliance partner Renault SA of France.

The Japanese maker of the Leaf electric car announced Monday its six-year strategy, planning a plug-in hybrid by the fiscal year ending March 2017 and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent per vehicle compared with 2005 levels.

Nissan, based in Yokohama, also aims to improve fuel efficiency of its vehicles by 35 percent compared with 2005.

Nissan President and Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said being ecological can deliver a competitive edge by allowing the automaker to stand out as good corporate citizen.

"More consumers are demanding products in line with their values, including cars and trucks with a lower carbon footprint," he told reporters at company headquarters. "At the same time, we are using technology to make our factories greener and more efficient."

Ghosn said Nissan was working on a fuel cell, another kind of zero-emissions vehicle, as well as other types of environmental technology such as clean diesels.

He said growth was coming from emerging markets, and Brazil, India and Russia are expected to overtake Japan in auto demand. The Japanese auto market, which has been stagnant for years, now trails China, the world's largest.

Japanese automakers suffered a major setback from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that disrupted suppliers and stalled production for months. Nissan has sprung back relatively well, partly on the back of the boost from emerging markets.

Electric cars remain a niche market so far. Nissan has sold about 16,600 Leaf cars around the world since they went on sale in December 2010.

But competition in electric vehicles is likely to intensify as others, such as Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp., enter the sector.

Toyota already offers plug-in hybrid cars, which run partly as EVs but switch to become regular hybrids with gas engines when they run out of the electric charge.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at http://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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