Nissan’s Electric Car Plans: Victory or Vapor?
Carlos Ghosn, president and CEO of Nissan, unveiled the company’s five-year business plan on Tuesday. The plan—called “Nissan GT 2012” with the G and T signifying growth and trust—puts a major emphasis on electric vehicles. Hybrid and EV fans responded with a chant in unison: “Bring it on.” But green car enthusiasts also engaged their well-worn vaporware alert systems to detect false promises, improbable plans, and insincerity.
“It wasn’t long ago that Carlos Ghosn was a big naysayer about the role of electric vehicles,” said John O’Dell, senior editor at Edmunds.com, in a New York Times article. “Obviously, something has opened his eyes.” For the past few years, Ghosn has consistently called gas-electric hybrids “niche products” and “not a good business story.” In 2005, he said, “We don’t want to build or sell cars that don’t make a profit.” Ghosn has previously cited California’s greenhouse gas regulations for passenger vehicles as the only legitimate reason for moving toward electric-drive cars.
Ghosn has apparently experienced a dramatic conversion from hard-nosed businessman to electric car preacher. In the current issue of The Economist, Ghosn said, “We must have zero-emission vehicles. Nothing else will prevent the world from exploding.” Of course, he has a point about the need to reduce vehicle emissions, but the use of apocalyptic language from the CEO doesn’t ring true. Could his conversion to zero-emission vehicles have anything to do with Nissan being way behind in development of today’s hybrids?
Many of the headlines about Nissan’s electric car plans mentioned 2010 as the target date—but that date is for fleet testing. A more careful reading puts retail sales of Nissan EVs at 2012, at the earliest. And production numbers will be low. Ghosn said, “We’re talking about hundreds of vehicles first.” Japan’s Nikkei recently reported that Nissan’s 50-50 joint venture with NEC Corporation will be able to produce enough lithium ion batteries for thousands of electric vehicles and hybrids a year starting in the spring of 2009. That’s max production capacity for lithium battery technology still being tested—not safe and warranted out the door and installed in vehicles.