by Jack Rosebro
Addressing journalists at a markedly subdued Los Angeles Auto Show, Nissan chairman and Renault SA co-chairman Carlos Ghosn acknowledged that “there is no book to follow” for automakers as they struggle with this year’s global financial crisis, and predicted that “we are going to see fewer actors” in the auto manufacturing industry.
Ghosn cautioned, however, that the greater long-term challenge will be the delivery of zero-emission vehicles in time to satisfy customer demand, especially from emerging economies, and that such demand could see the global vehicle population quadruple from 600 million vehicles today to as much as 2.5 billion vehicles by 2050.
“It is fair to say that no one predicted the global turmoil of 2008,” said Ghosn, who warned that the short-term solution for OEMs is to “avoid burning cash” for the next year or so. “If you can’t make it in the short term,” he warned, “there is no reason to plan for 2012.”
Looking farther into the future, Ghosn noted that “there is no reasonable substitute for cars” for at least the next ten to fifteen years, and that the purchase of a first car remains a “major life event” in much of the world.
This, he said, is particularly so in emerging economies, some of which have fifty vehicles for every thousand citizens, as opposed to the United States ratio of eight hundred vehicles per thousand citizens.
|“Nobody today contests the fact that we have a threat from climate change. Twenty percent, thirty percent emissions reductions [per vehicle] are not going to solve the problem.”|
Invoking the concept of the ecological footprint, which was developed by William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel of the University of British Columbia in the early 1990s, Ghosn acknowledged that while vehicle ownership ratios in China and India may never approach those in the US, the resultant resource demand if such a scenario would come to pass would mean that “we need another planet” at minimum. Were that demand for vehicles to expand worldwide, “we would need eleven [planets].”
Ghosn also touched on Renault/Nissan’s planned global rollout of a mass-produced electric vehicle, with vehicles scheduled for sale in the US and Japan by late 2010, and sales expanding worldwide by the following year.
Quipping that “if people say ‘that’s an ugly car, but it’s electric’, we’ve lost,” Ghosn asserted that electric vehicles must be offered in all market sectors to be economically viable, “not just city cars, but minivans, 4X4s, everything” in order to leverage economies of scale. Renault/Nissan has been working on lithium-ion technology since 1992, Ghosn said, and intends to emerge as a major supplier of electric vehicle battery packs to other automakers in the future.
Ghosn also announced a partnership with the state of Oregon as well as electric utility provider Portland General Electric, wherein Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski is expected to propose a $5,000 tax credit for purchasers of electric vehicles, and fast-track required permitting and site certification for an EV charging network to be developed by PGE. In August, PGE announced that it was developing a charging network for both plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, with an eye toward the eventual development of a bidirectional vehicle-to-grid network (earlier post).
The Renault-Nissan Alliance has announced electric vehicle initiatives for multiple markets: Israel, Denmark, Portugal (in partnership with Better Place), Kanagawa Prefecture (Japan), France (with electric utility company EDF), and the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States.