Despite reports to the contrary, Nissan is not anti-hybrid. In fact, the Nissan Altima Hybrid is arguably has just the right combination of power, style and fuel economy to be a mainstream hit. So why isn’t the Altima Hybrid—with its compelling combo of power, handling, style, and fuel economy—well known from coast-to-coast?
Because it’s only available in nine states: California and the eight states that have adopted California’s emissions rules: Oregon, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. (Even with its limited availability, the Altima Hybrid outsold the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Highlander Hybrid in May 2010. See our hybrid and diesel market dashboard.)
When the 2011 Altima Hybrid is introduced later this year, it will once again be limited to those nine states. This probably has a lot to do with Nissan wanting to downplay the viability of hybrids, as it focuses on a rollout of its all-electric Nissan LEAF. Keep in mind that the LEAF for the first year or so will also be limited to key markets on the West Coast, in Arizona and Tennessee. (The Chevy Volt is also geo-targeted to California, Michigan and Washington, D.C.)
From Coast to Coast
The good news is that the 2012 Altima Hybrid will indeed go nationwide. At the same time, next year’s model—not the version coming out later this year—will feature Nissan’s own proprietary hybrid system, rather than the gas-electric technology borrowed from Toyota for the current Altima Hybrid.
When we spoke with Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn at the recent groundbreaking of its electric battery plant, he said, “We have hybrids. We’re selling the Altima Hybrid in the United States. We’re bringing the Infiniti M Hybrid, and we’re very proud of it. So, I don’t want to give you the impression that we neglect this technology. We don’t. But we’re not leaders.”
Instead, Nissan is taking the lead on pure electric cars—a bold position that is pushing the envelop on battery-powered vehicles. Thanks goodness that Mr. Ghosn had the vision and the courage to lead the way on pure electric cars.
So, by the end of next year, Nissan-Infiniti dealerships throughout the United States will have an electric car and at least two hybrids—with its own technology. (We wouldn’t be surprised if a plug-in hybrid wasn’t too far off in the future.)
Bring on the electrics, but don’t think that they will supplant hybrids. Expect EVs to sit side-by-side with conventional hybrids and plug-in hybrids, in an increasingly attractive array of big and small, sporty and sedate models—available in every state in the nation. That’s when we’ll know that the green car revolution has finally arrived.