For the past few years, Carlos Ghosn, president and CEO of Nissan, has consistently called gas-electric hybrids “niche products” and “not a good business story.” But the popularity of hybrids, especially in Japan, is apparently pulling Nissan into the hybrid market.
On Friday, a Nissan spokesman told Bloomberg News that the automaker is “studying possibilities to put our hybrid system in other models” in addition to the Nissan Altima Hybrid and a future luxury hybrid. According to Nissan, no definite decisions about which models will become hybrids have been made.
Nissan has been licensing Toyota’s hybrid technology for use in the Altima Hybrid, which is sold in eight states in the United States. In August 2008, Nissan announced that it will develop its own hybrid technology, featuring lithium ion batteries, rear-wheel drive and a parallel hybrid powertrain. Nissan will begin selling hybrids based on its own homegrown technology in Japan in 2011. A new report from Nikkei indicated that a minivan could be Nissan’s first hybrid in Japan.
The first sign that Nissan could be making a u-turn on hybrids came in April 2009, when Minoru Shinohara, Nissan corporate senior vice president, said that plug-in hybrids will be an important transition solution to the pure electric vehicle because they don’t need an extensive public charging infrastructure. The cost of building the public charging infrastructure will cost billions of dollars; therefore, most analysts believe that it could take years to construct.
Purity on Pure Electric Cars
Until recently, Nissan executives were talking about pure electric cars as the only viable alternative solution for long-term sustainability. Last year, Mark Perry, Nissan’s director of product planning, told HybridCars.com that plug-in hybrids are a “bridge technology” because they are not completely zero emission. “You’re basically carrying around two powerplants and double the amount of weight,” he said. “A plug-in hybrid that gets 40 miles [without gasoline] is good…but you’re not zero emission. A pure battery electric is zero emission all the time, and that’s how we get C02 reduction, and how we get off foreign oil.”
Nissan will unveil the design of its first all-electric sedan next month—and is targeting its first sales in 2010 in Japan, with a roll out to fleets in the US around 2012.
In the meantime, Nissan has been shut out of the vibrant hybrid market. In June, Japan’s market for hybrid gas-electric cars has bypassed the US market for the first time to become the biggest seller of hybrids in the world. In fact, a hybrid has been the best selling model in Japan for the past three consecutive months—the new Honda Insight in April, and the new Toyota Prius in May and June. The introduction of new models, enhanced government incentives, and gas prices in the $4.50 a gallon range have all contributed to the rise in sales—which apparently have contributed to Nissan’s reconsideration of hybrids as merely “niche products.”