A world where electric cars running on clean power is getting closer, corporate leaders said on Thursday, the day after an electric car battery maker raised much more than expected in an initial public offering.

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of France's Renault SA and Japan's Nissan Motor Co Ltd, told a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative that zero-emission cars, such as those that run on electricity, are critical as countries seek to cut their greenhouse gas emissions while increasing numbers of people take to the road.

You have to go to zero-emissions in order to sustain mobility, Ghosn said at the philanthropic summit, adding that Nissan has a breakthrough that can accelerate the industry closer to that goal.

The only question is, 'Are we ready now or should we wait for five more years until we have better technology and lower cost?' We think the time is now, Ghosn said.

Japan's No. 3 automaker and its French partner have been the most aggressive proponents of pure electric vehicles in the auto industry, announcing plans to mass-market the clean but expensive cars globally in 2012. In August, the alliance unveiled a zero-emission, hatch-back vehicle called Leaf.

Ghosn said on Thursday that unlike earlier electric cars, current battery technology is more advanced, making electric cars as cost-efficient as gasoline-powered cars.

You don't have to be punished by driving an electric car, said Ghosn, who spoke on a panel about infrastructure.

He said a huge public investment is not necessary to bring electric cars to the mass market. Though he did say there needs to be cooperation between the public and private sectors, in the way of standardization, so a ramping up can begin.


General Electric Co Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt, on the same panel, applauded Ghosn's efforts with electric cars.

I'd be long on battery technology, Immelt said. I think it's a question of when, not if, it's going to happen.

Immelt is not the only one betting on battery technology.

Shares of lithium-ion car battery maker A123 Systems Inc jumped as much as 41 percent on Thursday in their market debut on Nasdaq. The company, founded by scientists linked to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, raised more in its initial public offering than expected.

Companies working on batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles also include South Korea's LG Chem Ltd; Germany's Continental AG; Japan's Sanyo Electric Co Ltd; and JCI-Saft, a joint-venture between Johnson Controls Inc and France's Saft Groupe SA.

GE's Immelt said investing in electric cars needs to be accompanied by investing in cleaner energy, such as nuclear power.

If you project out 30 or 40 years, it's hard to simultaneously root for Carlos (Ghosn) and root against the reemergence of the nuclear industry, Immelt said. It will create a demand for clean energy.

(Reporting by Martinne Geller: Additional reporting by Kevin Krolicki in Detroit; Editing by Richard Chang)