Car Companies and Governments Align for Oil-Free Future

Carlos Ghosn, Phone Call

“When a government is interested, they call us. We don’t go to them. They call us,” Carlos Ghosn said. (Photo: Brad Berman. All rights reserved.)

In the early days of the Bush administration, vice-president Dick Cheney met behind closed doors with oil companies to formulate national energy policy. A decade later, we see what happens when the government and oilies get too chummy: dangerous oil drilling and endless oil wars.

The Gulf oil spill is a catastrophe of epic proportions, but if nothing else comes out of it, the disaster could force a decisive break from the government-oil alliance—while forging a new alignment between the state and car companies. That’s right, the same car companies that stood defiant of government fuel efficiency mandates for generations are now forming alliances to produce cars that use little or no petroleum.

In this dawning age of battery-powered vehicles, the very definition of an automobile company’s function in the economy and society is shifting. Companies that recognize the change are positioning themselves as government allies in the struggle for oil dependence. “We are not only a carmaker. We are a sustainable mobility system provider,” said Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan and Renault. He was speaking in Tennessee at the occasion of Nissan breaking ground on a new lithium ion battery factory—financed by a $1.4 billion loan from the Department of Energy.

Car Company or Systems Provider?

Mr. Ghosn proclaimed that Nissan-Renault is not only making cars. The company will also make batteries, help recycle them, make quick charging equipment—and most importantly, provide consulting services to governments. “We’re not only a carmaker here. We’re the provider of a system. And we are advising governments and cities about what system they should be in place in order to get the interest of the consumer,” Ghosn said.

Government dollars for research, manufacturing and consumer incentives are the key to jumpstarting the market for electric-drive vehicles. “We don’t make electric cars affordable. Governments make it affordable,” Ghosn said. Politicians are willing to make short-term investments in batteries and electric-drive technologies because it produces clean tech jobs—and it means weaning drivers off of oil which exacts a much more costly long-term price paid in environmental destruction, wars, and vulnerability to oil price shocks.

There’s proof that this strategy is working. Nissan’s phone is ringing. “When a government is interested, they call us. We don’t go to them. They call us,” Ghosn said. Nissan is providing sustainable mobility expertise to the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Denmark, and Israel, as well as states such as Tennessee and California.

Staying the Course

This strategy is not without risks. When political winds shift, governments might not be willing to stay the course. For example, Germany and the U.K. have been gung ho on electric cars, but concerns over national debt are rising. Last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to subsidize electric-car purchases. The U.K.’s new Prime Minister David Cameron recently confirmed a £20 million grant to Nissan for building the Nissan LEAF in the U.K., but his Conservative party is intent on reducing government spending. Pulling incentives on electric-drive cars—from the most efficient hybrids to pure electric cars—could stymie the market before the technologies reach economies of scale.

The new government-industry alliance is bringing unprecedented choices to the marketplace. It’s now up to consumer-citizens to invest our own money in these vehicles—to show that we can begin pulling away from our oil-stained past.

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  • Old Man Crowder

    So Germany bails out Greece and then says “Sorry Mr. Advanced Environmental Technology, I’m tapped out.”

    Funny how when economic turbulence hits that it’s the environment that’s first on the chopping block.

    How many billions have been spent on stabilizing Iraq? What would a fraction of that money have accomplished if it had gone into rapid transit, clean energy and renewable fuels?

  • JamesDavis

    It is really good to finally hear a company like Nissan-Renault brave enough to tell the truth about the lies the Bush administration spewed out to the American people. The other three auto manufacturers should follow your lead Nissan. It really bothered me when I read that there was a car that could get 7,820 miles per gallon of gas and the Bush administration would not allow the technology come into the U.S. and talked the three big American auto manufacturers into denying the technology even existed.

    If Bush didn’t spew so many lies during his administration, we could be almost free from fossil fuel by now.

    Thanks Nissan, you are a great and honorable company.

  • H3PO4

    It is funny how Americans believe everything they read on their Media.Germany bailed out Greece?By getting a loan with 3% interest and giving it as a loan to another country with 5%, and charging 0,5% as administration fee.That is usury in my book.Germany has a 5 billion euros trade surplus with Greece for the last 10 years.They don’t give money for environment because it is not considered a political priority right now. I am Greek and I hate to read this lie of bail out over and over. Hate for Greece has become one of the few issues that political left and right can agree.

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