Nissan today held a groundbreaking ceremony marking the start of construction on a manufacturing facility in Smyrna, Tenn., that will produce lithium ion batteries for the all-electric Nissan Leaf. The Leaf itself will also be produced in Smyrna, where the Nissan Altima hybrid and other conventional vehicles are currently assembled.
In a follow-up roundtable press conference with Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, journalists learned about the new production facility, which will be capable of producing 150,000 units of the Leaf beginning in late 2012. HybridCars.com was on hand to get details about Leaf and Nissan’s production plans. Stay tuned for a full report.
In the meantime, here’s what Mr. Ghosn had to say in response to our question about Nissan’s high-level vision for electric cars.
HybridCars.com: What was your ah hah moment about electric cars? Please take us through your personal thought process that convinced you to move forward.
Carlos Ghosn: What you call the “ah hah moment” is everyday. We’re being fed new information all the time. The project is progressing all the time, but fortunately, it’s all progressing in the right direction.
In every technology, we have one leader. We don’t have 15. We have one leader and N followers. Everybody looks at Nissan and says you are not leader on hybrids. Look at what Toyota is doing. They took the leadership and everybody is the follower. Period.
I have personally been skeptical about how far we go with hybrid for the very simple reason that, as an engineer, I consider putting two systems in a car not a viable solution for the long-term. It’s expensive. It’s cumbersome. It’s a good solution in some specific cases, but it’s not going to go beyond a niche.
Nissan is selling the Altima Hybrid in the United States. We’re bringing the Infiniti M hybrid, and we’re very proud of it. I don’t want to give you the impression that we are neglecting this technology, but we’re not leaders. We’re a follower, with many other people.
The electric car is different. With electric cars, we started to see that oil can go up very significantly. In 2008, it was $150. Even in this recession, oil has been around $80.
We have seen the explosion of the auto market in China. In 2009, China became the largest car market in the world. Nobody believed that it would happen so fast. During the economic crisis, India and Brazil continue to grow. We know that Russia is going to start growing this year. And the rate of the growth shows that the emerging markets are going to help global sales move beyond 100 million units per year in the foreseeable future.
We’re going to do 70 million cars in 2010, even with all the economic troubles. It’s going to be a record year for the industry—even though the U.S., Japan and Europe will be down. You have an explosion of growth in China, India and Brazil.
Now, you compound the price of oil going up, emerging markets booming, regulations on emissions becoming tighter and tighter, and dependence on oil becoming a real political problem, not only for developed countries but for emerging markets. China and India depend on oil imports.
There is no way that this can continue. At a certain point, you have to go to zero emissions and zero dependence on oil.
On top of this, we have the development of our own technology on batteries that say that today there are things that are possible that were not possible in the past.
So, the convergence between the macro environment on one side, and advances in battery technology…we’re going for it.
We announced our strategy, planned the investments, and started with one car, going to two cars, then four cars, and it’s going to continue to develop.