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Nissan/Renault CEO: “We Need Another Planet”

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.”
—Carlos Ghosn

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.




You may want to look at this video to see this guy living in the future TODAY.

I am not sure it could be viable for other parts of the world but at least the technologies are ready NOW.


Solar Prius

Henry Gibson

The maximum intensity of sunlight at the top of the earths atmosphere is 1000 watts per square meter. This is reduced by going through the atmosphere. It is also reduced by the angle of the sun and also by the hours that the sun is shining and cloud coverage.

To this one must calculate efficiency of the solar cells. The high efficiency ones are both rare and expensive. There has been mass production of solar cells for over 20 years, and quite a few improvements have been made, and there are new inovations. Someone will tell me if they have a solar cell system that gets more than 100 watts per square meter average while the sun is shining.

In no case is solar electricity from solar cells cost effective with no subsidies where grid electricity is available. It is cheaper to run your own diesel or natural gas generator if ther is a gas station within ten miles or you have natural gas piped to your house.

Ever penny spent for grid connected solar energy is better spent for installing co-generation units where natural gas is available. No business building should be allowed to be built without cogeneration turbines or engines. Through the magic of science, waste engine heat can be used to cool the building or heat it or both at the same time. It is actually possible to have a natural gas burning heating system that has two hundred percent efficiency or better. %200.

Right now the cheapest battery electrical storage is had from golf cart type batteries built with lead. Compressed air in standard tanks may become competitive.

Grid electricity is cheap enough and clean enough for many times the electric cars that can be put on the road in a few years. No electric motor has to be idled at a stop sign, nor do gasoline cars anymore. The miles that you get per kilowatt hour depends on how you run the car. Fast speeds are more expensive. But there are not idling wastes, and there are fewer acceleration wastes and there may even be regeneration during braking.

A three fuel car that runs on gasoline from a spare fuel tank if necessary or runs many miles on propane stored in very high pressure tanks that are used most of the time for compressed natural gas for shorter trips. It should be a series hybrid with ten to twenty miles of battery capacity is all; more is overkill. Lead batteries are adequate and cheap enough.



Anyone notice that auto makers are in a lot of trouble right now? The oil price spike has helped push the world into a deflationary spiral, along with decisions based on deluded expectations of future wealth.

Oil production has probably reached its peak and the decline will make a mess of any utopian plans for widespread EVs. Few will buy new cars in such a high unemployment environment.

Sale rates of cars are dropping off a cliff, affecting auto maker solvency. This is a self reinforcing process. Would you dare buy a car from a maker close to bankruptcy? Also, any new car must compete in price with the current surplus of recently built cars and the glut in the second hand market too.

We are past the point of diminishing returns and heading into collapse.


"Someone will tell me if they have a solar cell system that gets more than 100 watts per square meter average while the sun is shining."

Many get close to 20% efficiency (ie 200 watts/m2). SunPower A300 cells are independently verified at 21% efficient.

For a family to get all their annual 12,000 miles from electric drive, they'd need to generate 3,000 kWh per year. Ground level incident solar energy (averaged over all states and over all months of the year) is 1800 kWh per m2 per year in the USA (google NREL to check). At 20% efficiency, the average family would need 8.3 m2 of solar panels on their roof (equivalent to a 1.7 kW peak array) to totally cover their vehicle electrical energy demands for the year (ie 12,000 EV miles).

How much would a 1.7 kW array cost? Nanosolar suggest they can sell the cells at $0.99 per watt. If they could be installed for $2 per watt, that's $3,400 for no gas bills ever again.


Mark BC

"OK, from Wikipedia I found that the US uses 3.3 terawatts of power".

You made error. US consumes 4500 Terawats of power.


Darius, I think you are confusing energy and power.

The USA consumes around 4,000 terrawatt-HOURS of electrical ENERGY per year.

But this is equivalent to an average electical POWER generation of 0.45 terrawatts.

Incidentally, 4,000 TWh of electricity could be produced by 2,000,000 hectares of nanosolar cells (140 km squared) at a cost of $2 trillion, assuming $1 per watt installed. How does this figure compare to your recent economic bailout?


Minor point of correction; "The solar constant is the amount of incoming solar electromagnetic radiation per unit area, measured on the outer surface of Earth's atmosphere in a plane perpendicular to the rays. The solar constant includes all types of solar radiation, not just the visible light. It is measured by satellite to be roughly 1366 watts per square meter (W/m²), though this fluctuates by about 6.9% during a year (from 1412 W/m² in early January to 1321 W/m² in early July) due to the earth's varying distance from the Sun."


USA consumes e-energy at an annual rate of about 4200 billion KWh.

The e-energy required for 100 million electrified vehicles at 10 KWh/vehicle/day would be about 365 billion KWh/year

What is so difficult to increase e-energy production by about 8.7% for 100 million e-vehicles (over 10+ years) or 17.4% for 200 million e-vehicles (over 20+ years)?

Note: An effective e-energy saving program could easily cover 50 + % of the electricity required for the e-vehicles.

Also, something like 40 000 large wind mills or 40 new Nuclear plants or a combination of the two could do it. This is not but of a challenge for USA.


I'm heading for Planet Claire in my Plymouth Satellite.


@DS - I knew you came from there.


More- "The Sun's rays are attenuated as they pass though the atmosphere, thus reducing the insolation at the Earth's surface to approximately 1000 watts per square meter for a surface perpendicular to the Sun's rays at sea level on a clear day.

The actual figure varies with the Sun angle at different times of year, according to the distance the sunlight travels through the air, and depending on the extent of atmospheric haze and cloud cover. Ignoring clouds, the average insolation for the Earth's surface is approximately 250 watts per square meter (6 (kW·h/m²)/day), taking into account the lower radiation intensity in early morning and evening, and its near-absence at night." And about half that if you include clouds.


@DS - "Well she isn't."

The gun to Ghosn's head is the ever increasing demand for ultra-low cost cars for China, India, Indonesia and others. For him, it's not the greenhouse effect; the dude didn't get religion. Where will we get the oil to run "2.5 billion vehicles by 2050"? Where will we get the steel to make them? Who's going to quintuple the number of car factories to supply them? Only Toyota has the financial strength to consider an increase in production by an order of magnitude. No one believes that they would make such an investment. Therefore, there will be a shortage of affordable vehicles until the human population drops by more than half - maybe to three billion or so.

Whether three billion is a sustainable population is a big question. Sustainability will certainly require a solar cell powered economy, with a large majority of the populace living and working in dense cities. Assuming best methods, there's nothing wrong with city living as long as green spaces are very well integrated. It has been noted that people who live in close proximity exhibit better values and integrity. Human values are what we need the most for sustainable living.


Well with all these numbers being thrown around in both directions, it becomes clear that with current technology, it's basically capable of producing a solar powered electric car that could go 30 km a day. And we all know what direction those numbers are going to go in the future -- down in price and up in efficiency, significantly. It's undeniable.

If I went back in time only 20 years and told people the amazing things laptop computers or cell phones or digital cameras would be capable of achieving in 2008 most people would be astonished. But now it's commonplace.

For some reason people don't seem to realize that the same innovation could be happening with energy and transportation -- the problem is that they have very little incentive to do so, in fact a disincentive.

Look at the amazing things the world of digital photography is producing. The pace of innovation is astounding. Why? Because if Canon doesn't, Nikon will, and steal the market, and vice versa.

With energy, carbon emissions are externalized and therefore not part of the equation, and the mass production required to bring these innovations to reality is being controlled by the interests that do not want to see it happen.

The way to help speed this along? .... a global carbon tax.


It is pointless to look at current energy usage to gauge what we will need in the future. If it's that hard to replace fossil energy, we will use less energy. Our current usage rates in the US will have to go down. People will live in higher, more efficient densities. Farming and food production will get more efficient and local. Farmers have NEVER had to find ways to farm using less energy. They might have too soon. And oil, while depleting will still be available as a bridge. The key is to use policy to drive the switchover instead of using policy to DELAY the switchover as we have done in the past.

fred schumacher

Carlos Ghosn and Ratan Tata are the only two auto execs who really understand what is going on.

Human population growth is the primary driver of climate change. Only one factor has successfully suppressed population growth over the long term: prosperity. Other population decreasers, such as war, famine, disease have temporary effects, from which human populations bounce back relatively quickly.

Ease of transportation is one of the prime necessities for creating prosperity. Ergo the conundrum, the factor that in the long term can help solve our problem, in the short term is a contributor to the problem.

What the auto industry has not recognized is the importance of matching vehicle morphology to actual primary use. What is needed is not more multi-function cars, but single-purpose cars. If all you need to do for 80% of your driving is move your own body over the distance of 30 kilometers, you don't need two tons of machine to do that. 200 to 400 kg. should suffice, resulting in great economies of scale in downsizing components. The other 20% of the time, use a leased multi-purpose vehicle.


Fred Sc

There's a lot to be said about matching the size of the vehicle to the need.

I fully agree with you that a 400 Kg, 100+ Km e-car could drive most of us around 95 % of the time.

Would it be cheaper to rent a larger unit for the other 5% of the time or have one 100 Km e-car + one larger PHEV for longer family trips?

fred schumacher

Re: single-purpose and multi-purpose cars.

Plug-in hybrids using existing morphology will be too expensive to have rapid impact on fuel reduction. Too much of the old vehicle fleet will stay in service. Single-purpose vehicles, however, could be made inexpensive enough (if manufacturers use parsimony rather than complexity as a problem solving tool) to allow for rapid replacement of daily driver vehicles.

This would leave the problem of what to do with the other 10 to 20% of vehicle miles that require multi-purpose vehicles. If one's needs are at the upper end of the scale, for example, a family with many children, then it makes sense to own that vehicle. If the need is on the lower end of the scale, then it should be leased.

This leasing process could be greatly simplified. Such vehicles could be leased through auto dealerships and the use of a card-swipe entry and data keeping system. Your card gets you entry into the vehicle and records your usage. After the vehicle is returned, you get billed for actual use.

Since multi-purpose vehicles would only be responsible for a small fraction of total miles driven, their fuel economy does not need to be so stringently reduced. It's the single-purpose vehicles which will do the heavy lifting on fuel reduction.

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