Renault-Nissan CEO and president Carlos Ghosn is standing behind his prediction that ten percent of all the vehicles sold worldwide will be electric.
And contrary to how some people are seeing it now, he says that electric power for cars isn't at all a competitor to the gasoline engine in the world's growing vehicle market.
"It's a complement that the oil producers and the oil [refiners] are going to be welcoming because it's going to reduce the pressures that are at the base of the imbalance on oil demand and oil prices," said Ghosn, appearing for a lengthy audio conversation earlier this week, available as a podcast, on BBC Radio's The Interview.
Internal combusion engines will be around for another 50 years, Ghosn predicted.
"Oil is a challenge—both price and availability…also I would say geopolitical issues around oil," said Ghosn. Secondly, environmental regulations are going to be cause for a change in the market. "They're going to get tougher and tougher," he said to host Owen Bennett Jones in an interview recorded at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. adding, "The young people are much more demanding about respect for the environment than we have ever imagined."
"So when you combine these elements, the only sustainable solution is zero-emission cars," declared Ghosn.
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Nissan has invested about six billion dollars in vehicle and battery-pack design as well as infrastructure, to prepare to build up to 500,000 electric vehicles, along with just as many battery packs per year. Renault will be the first to the mass market, with its 2011 Fluence ZE. Following it, in the U.S. market, will be the 2011 Nissan LEAF, appearing with limited availability at first but offered on the mass market for 2012.
The rental-car giant Hertz just announced that it would rent the Nissan LEAF at select locations in the U.S. and Europe beginning next year.
Ghosn said that his company is at the head of the electric-vehicle transition "because we're the only one investing in capacity, so we're going to be the only one with cars on the streets."
"So what you're going to see is not one electric car, a line of electric cars—four for Renault, four for Nissan—addressing different kinds of needs." Ghosn elaborated that design and the brand will still matter just as much with EVs, and selecting a car won't be anything like appliance shopping anytime soon. "There is an emotional involvement with cars, even though it's an object."
For the auto industry as a whole, Ghosn estimated that 3 to 4 billion dollars are being invested each year into batteries, and he suspects that a lot of battery makers are sitting on developments that are a leap ahead of what's being discussed now in EVs.
"I think those who have made a lot of progress are not talking about them too much because they want to put them in the car and they want to keep a competitive advantage," he said. "But you're going to see that in a five-year timeframe we've made huge and tremendous improvements in the batteries.""We've probably divided the cost by three, we've probably reduced the size by as much, even the range today is probably much more reliable than before," said Ghosn, further hinting that "there are plenty of improvements in terms of safety, reliability, cost, and weight which have been done…and it's not finished." A second-generation version of Nissan's proprietary battery pack, produced by a joint venture with NEC, is reportedly in the works and the 2012 Nissan LEAF has been designed to easily accommodate a battery change.