Nissan’s Electrics: On or Off?

Tesla Roadster LA Times Photograph

I’m an unabashed electric-car fangirl. Well, maybe I’m slightly abashed, but I really believe that all-electric vehicles, along with hybrids, are an important piece of transportation and environmental strategies for the future. (And electric cars are just so cool!)

And that’s why I was so excited to read the reports of Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s recent press conference in Bangkok. Mr. Ghosn, a native of Brazil, has been credited with pushing Nissan (and its subsidiary Renault) toward a greener focus in the past year or so; some observers suggest that his internationalist perspective has helped shake up entrenched thinking at Nissan, which lags well behind Toyota and Honda in embracing green initiatives.

Ghosn sounded like all systems were go at the Bangkok presser, with statements like this: “We continue on the lithium ion battery. We think for us it’s a competitive advantage [….] We have a lot of technology in this area, and we think this is going to be very helpful, not only for hybrids but also for electric cars.”

When questioned further, Ghosn declared, “If you have an efficient battery for a hybrid, why not go all the way and go for electric cars? It has zero emissions of anything.” (These quotes come courtesy of the Associated Press; the CarGurus budget doesn’t run to overseas junketing quite yet.) Ghosn also announced a collaborative project with the Japanese government, slated to place “hundreds” of all-electric cars in municipalities around the country.

This is exciting news for us electric-car junkies. With Toyota and Honda (and, in the US, Ford) so focused on the hybrid segment, the all-electric development territory is dominated by GM and a handful of small companies. Nissan entering the field would mean a dramatic increase in competition, which might well lead to faster development and production. With two major players, as well as some very innovative independents, in the field, the electric-car dream would be that much closer to reality.

And, alas, as I was putting this post together, today’s WhatCar? headlines a statement from Chris Lee, Nissan’s general manager of product planning and strategy, saying unequivocally that Nissan isn’t planning electric–or even hybrid–models any time soon. “Electric or hybrid cars are not returning the investment costs yet, so it is not a route to pursue for us,” is how Lee’s quoted.

Now, I don’t know what’s going on here, but it sounds as if Ghosn got a bit ahead of himself in Bangkok. I hope, though, that whoever’s really in charge of this stuff at Nissan will reconsider. Only time will tell, I guess. It was a nice dream to have for a few days.

And just to give us all something to dream on, here’s the Tesla Roadster burning up the test track.

If you’ve got $90,000 (and the juice to leapfrog a bunch of movie stars and other VIPs on the waiting list), you won’t have to wait for the automotive dinosaurs to go electric–the Tesla Roadster’s first production models are shipping this summer! Sometimes it’s not easy, or cheap, being green.

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