Detroit Auto Show: Nissan's green strategy is to go to zero

Posted by: David Welch on January 12, 2010

If there a lesson that the auto industry has learned about selling hybrid-electric cars, it’s that it’s tough to take on Toyota. The Japanese giant sold almost 12,000 copies of the Prius in December next to about 1,600 for Honda’s Insight, which is also a dedicated hybrid.

Other companies are taking notice. In November, General Motors shelved plans to build a Prius fighter for its Chevrolet division that would have targeted 50 miles per gallon, preferring to focus on its Chevrolet Volt electric car. Similarly, Nissan is looking at its Leaf electric car as its best green play.

The company has a hybrid Altima and will launch a gasoline-electric version of its Infiniti M sedan in March 2011. But the company’s biggest plan is for the Leaf, said Carlos Tavares, executive vice president for Nissan Motor Co, during an interview at the Detroit auto show. “Only the leader wins,” Tavares said. “We know who has taken the leadership position, it’s Toyota. That’s why we decided to go to the ultimate goal of zero emissions.”

Nissan figures it can establish a lead in electric vehicles with its Leaf EV, which goes on sale in December. Tavares said Nissan has already had 35,000 people express interest in the car. That is a good indicator that they can sell the car successfully, he said. But Nissan will have a better idea once they start taking deposits this spring.

The company’s aspirations are huge. Nissan’s plant in Smyrna can build up to 150,000 of the Leaf when it starts production in late 2012. The first car will come from a plant in Japan. Tavares said it will be competitively priced with other compact cars. But selling 150,000 cars will be tough. The car can go 100 miles on a charge, which will limit its appeal. To give you an idea, Nissan sold fewer than 10,000 Altima hybrids last year and Toyota sold 140,000 Priuses. Nissan is taking a different road, but selling all that the company produce won’t be an easy ride.

Reader Comments

Schmeltz

January 12, 2010 12:53 PM

I think Nissan has honorable aspirations for pursuing Pure BEV architectures but I just can't see them catching on widespread with a 100 mile range. Even 200 mile ranges are a tough sell for a time and place where public infrastructure for charging these cars is rare or non-existant all together. The EREV philosophy employed by GM in the Volt is the most elegant and pragmatic approach I have seen to the obstacles in front of mass EV adoption.

Sean

January 12, 2010 2:27 PM

Battery technology has not advanced to the point where an electric engine is as reliable (fuel-wise)as a gasoline engine. Even the volt has a gasoline engine. Nissan is just sour because it completely missed the hybrid boat. (Nissan's hybrids are licensed from Toyota). Besides electricity is made mostly from coal and natural gas. So much for "green".

siphandone

January 12, 2010 7:53 PM

There is no such thing as "zero emissions". Electric cars will still use electricity from outlets (power plant) to recharge their batteries... Might call low emission to be precise........

Nick

January 13, 2010 1:35 AM

Nissan's courage, its willingness to make a bold move in an otherwise conservative industry is admirable.

If other automakers were taking on challenges like Nissan does, there would be flying cars by now.

ottoteller

January 13, 2010 3:50 PM

One of the major limitations of wind and solar is that it is so difficult to capture and store electrical potential when it's dark or when the wind isn't blowing. One appealing aspect of an electric fleet is that is acts as a decentralized repository, capturing and storing large amounts of recoverable energy. Additionally, charging at off-peak times lowers the load on the conventional grid, or captures peak output from wind/solar generators that might otherwise go to waste.

JT

January 13, 2010 5:10 PM

Electric vehicles aren't so much about achieving zero emissions as they are reducing dependence on foreign oil.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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