Sometimes it does not matter who is the first to do something. Being the leader in a sport, in a business or in environmental responsibility does not necessarily mean you were the first in your field of expertise.
This is the scenario that is unfolding with electric cars.
Electric vehicles are not new to our industry. Manufacturers were offering battery-powered cars 100 years ago. But due to constraints on range, affordability and the supporting infrastructure, battery-powered cars were never mass-marketed and the internal combustion engine became the standard. Electric vehicles were relegated to low-volume specialist applications. And so the story continued for decades.
In the 1990s we saw a resurgence of interest and technological progress in electric vehicles. As in the past, the odds were not in favor of widespread zero-emissions mobility. Battery technology had improved, but range and stability challenges persisted. The two major issues of affordability and infrastructure meant electric vehicles would not have traction in the mainstream of consumer mobility.
Regardless of progress on batteries and motors, electric vehicles continued to be a sideshow for two principle reasons: lack of demand and a lack of a mass-marketed product. In a classic chicken-and-egg scenario:
- • Why would governments create the infrastructure required with no demand?
- • Why would consumers create demand for a vehicle they could not use as a practical day-to-day alternative to their gasoline-fueled cars?
- • Why would manufacturers invest to produce electric vehicles when there was neither mass-market demand for the product nor investments from the public sector to create the infrastructure required?
And so the stalemate continued — until now. Automakers are laying out plans to bring a variety of electric cars to the market in the next two years. Renault and Nissan are investing to bring zero-emissions technology on a global scale, beginning next year.
Chicken or the Egg?
We think electric vehicles could account for as much as 10 percent of global sales by 2020. Many have said we are hopelessly optimistic in our forecast. Those same people think we are underestimating the issues around range anxiety and people's reluctance to accept some of the changes required for owning and operating an electric vehicle. Critics also say that electric vehicles are not really zero emission when carbon is burned to produce the electricity.
It is possible that our critics could be right. Maybe Renault and Nissan are too far ahead of the industry. But we keep turning back to three fundamental questions that frame the EV discussion:
- 1. Do we think the price of oil will rise in the future?
- 2. Do we think legislation on emissions will increase in the future?
- 3. Do we think public concern about the environment will increase?
If you believe — like we do — that oil prices will rise in the future and that legislation and public concern for the environment will both strengthen, then it is easier to conclude that zero-emissions vehicles are the answer to reducing CO2 in a world that is forecast to have 2.5 billion vehicles in operation by 2050.
Many people already are concluding that the time is right for electric cars. We did some research recently in Japan and the United States, asking consumers to tell us what kind of vehicle they would like to choose as their next car. We listed conventional gasoline engines, diesels, hybrids and full-electric cars. In Japan, 9 percent of consumers selected electric cars as their No. 1 choice. In the U.S., 8 percent picked electric cars first. And this is without any mass-marketed product available today.
No More Concepts
In 2007, engineers and product planners at Renault and Nissan started to draw up plans to create a viable business based on developing our own batteries and a range of vehicles suitable for consumers across the world. Just two years later, the Alliance already has confirmed eight all-new electric vehicles, ranging from an innovative Renault two-seat city car and the Nissan Leaf to commercial vehicles from both companies and even a new luxury electric vehicle from Infiniti.
These are all real vehicles, and they are coming very soon. In just 12 months, we start delivering the Nissan Leaf to customers in the United States and Japan. Renault will start delivering the first of its four announced vehicles in 2011, and the range of available products will keep growing. No more never-for-the-market concepts and no more limited-production experimental fleets.
How does the Renault-Nissan Alliance offer compare to our competitors'?
We are confident in our lithium-ion battery technology, which Nissan has been developing over the past 17 years. We are producing our own batteries, through a joint venture with NEC, so we will have better control of quality, cost and the ability to meet our forecast demand. We consider the battery as a core technology and a business. Through a separate venture with Sumitomo, we are planning a business to refabricate, resell, reuse and recycle the batteries, giving them a second life as energy-storage solutions in markets worldwide.
We are also the only automotive group that has established more than 30 partnerships with governments, municipalities, utility providers and other organizations to lay the foundation for both the charging infrastructure and for incentives and policies that will encourage consumers to embrace electric cars. From San Diego to Yokohama to Monaco, the momentum is building for zero-emissions mobility.
No More Fuel, No More Fun?
For drivers who equate "electric car" with "golf cart," there may be a concern that the advent of electric vehicles could mean the end to vehicles that ignite the passion for driving or offer the simple joy of the connection between human and machine. That is an unfounded concern.
I am fortunate to lead a group that covers five globally renowned brands and is committed — as it always has been — to delivering products that are both practical and emotional in their appeal. We brought you the Nissan GT-R, the Infiniti G and the Renault Mégane RS. We continue to invest in technologies dedicated to the advancement of high-performance motoring, including those using a conventional engine.
Passion will always find a way to express itself in mobility. We believe the inherent properties of a modern electric vehicle — with its instant torque and exhilarating acceleration — can provide new driving thrills.
We Are Ready
Electric cars have been around for a century, so we are not concerned about being the first to market. We are, however, eager to lead the drive to make zero-emissions mobility an affordable and practical reality.
The Renault-Nissan Alliance will pioneer by offering consumers the first EV lineup that they will want to own, drive and enjoy, along with the satisfaction of being part of the next major shift in the evolution of the automobile.