Tipping Point For Electric Vehicles

Tipping point for electric vehicles
By Andy Palmer
Senior Vice President, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

Why has the Nissan Renault Alliance committed itself to leadership in electric vehicles ahead of hybrids or other alternative forms of future propulsion?  

Well simply, because EV’s are the most mature form of technology that allows us to reach zero emissions and delight the customer. The technology, even as it exists today will be more than ample for most drivers, although I must admit there will need to be a change in mindset to conquer what is now being called ‘range anxiety’. The battery in the Nissan LEAF is already good for 160km a day between charges (typical LA driving mode), far more than the daily needs of 80 per cent of motorists.  

Beyond the comparison with alternative forms of propulsion, when customers realise that EV’s can save them money on running costs; don’t ever need to visit a filling station, are fabulously fun to drive thanks to “on-demand torque” and a very low centre-of-gravity; and are silent; I believe the market will tip in the same way that the market for diesel cars tipped in Europe 15 years ago. We’re at a pivotal moment.

One of the reasons both Nissan and Renault prioritise EVs is that we want to focus our efforts on zero emission leadership. Yes, Nissan will have hybrids and we have already announced the first Infiniti hybrid for launch in 2010.  We will also have a full set of other low Co2 / leading fuel economy solutions such as idle-stop, down-size turbo, clean diesel, etc, all grouped under the umbrella name of PureDrive. The promise of affordable clean transportation has always been ‘some time in the future’. By mass-marketing EVs we aim to break through that barrier, driven by our technological innovation and commitment to scale.

But having the technology is not necessarily a guarantee of success; we also need to assure full charging infrastructure availability.  That’s one of the reasons we have been so pleased by the response of numerous governments and power generating companies to our plans – installing charging networks is absolutely vital for the success of EVs. Also imperative in the short term while the technology is maturing, are government incentives for people to buy electric vehicles. This allows LEAF to be sold at a price that is competitive with diesel and petrol engine family cars in most countries. 

To be specific, LEAF will be sold in the USA for less than $33k MSRP. When you combine the $7.5k federal incentive, the customer will see a real sales price of less than $25.5k.  When turned into a monthly lease price, this means LEAF is cheaper than say, a Honda Accord.

We’ve been accused of “betting the farm” on a technology that nobody has proved can sell in big numbers.” Analysts have also suggested that our forecast of a global EV market share of 10 per cent by 2020 is way too optimistic and suggest it could be less than 5 per cent.  Well, I’ll stand by our forecast because having seen the analysis, knowing our product plan and having driven LEAF many times, I am convinced that the merits of our EV’s are extremely persuasive. Actually my biggest concern today, is not whether we are over-optimistic but whether our production capacity will meet immediate demand – the kind of problem this industry is not known for!