By on May 12, 2011

Further on today’s results conference at Nissan, I could regale (or most likely bore) you with what you will hear from just about any Japanese carmaker, and possibly from non-Japanese carmakers as well: Last year was a good year, the March 11 tsunami makes this year a challenging year, but what will not kill us makes us stronger, and in ancient China, crisis and opportunity were one and the same.

Now this is Nissan and Carlos Ghosn who has bet a farm in France and one in Japan on the future of the electric car. Ghosn made a few points today that are well worth noting. He talked about nukes, CO2, blackouts – and batteries.

At the end of his prepared statements, Ghosn said:

“Thanks to the early success of the Nissan Leaf, Nissan has become the undisputed leader in sustainability, propelling the automotive industry to a future that no longer relies on a single, non-renewable resource.”

That was ignored by the press as the usual fluff and hyperbola. That is unfortunate, because there is a gem in it.

In the following Q&A, a reporter from the Nippon Hoso radio station unwittingly stumbled over the gemstone. He asked a question that is being asked many times these days: Will the nuclear power disaster in Japan (and the knee-jerk reaction the world over) dent and scratch the image of the EV? The radioman received a surprising answer from Carlos Ghosn:

“What is the specific advantage of electric cars? They don’t rely on one single commodity for their power. You can make electricity out of many sources, wind, solar, natural gas, oil, coal, hydroelectric. The beauty of the electric car is if you have a problem with oil, or you have a problem with nuclear, or you have a problem with coal, you just have to change the source of the electricity. We have transportation that is not depending on one single commodity. If there is a problem with nuclear, or a problem with oil, or a problem with coal, the superiority of the electric car is that it is not stuck. Because you can create electricity from so many sources, the electric car is really the car for the future.”

Of course that switching can’t be done overnight. But it can be done in a much shorter timeframe than, say, moving all cars from gasoline to hydrogen. Building new power plants takes a few years. Building a new infrastructure takes decades at best. Now what to do during the times of the switchover to alternate sources?

This being Japan, a reporter from the Asahi Shimbun put it in the appropriately courteous words: “When there is a blackout, charging may be difficult. This may be a concern that may rise.”

Carlos Ghosn waved his arms in his inimitable way (it used startle the common Japanese, who are keeping their hands to their side, but in the meantime, they warmed up to it), and he answered:

“It is true if you have a blackout and you want to charge your car, you can’t. But the beauty of the electric car is that you can charge your car whenever you want. In the contrary, if you have a blackout, you can now use your car to light your house. The non-reliability of electricity made the battery a very important element. Now the battery becomes a place where you can store energy. So if you have a blackout, you can use a battery that is in your car.”


But then, if we shut down the nukes and go back to thermoelectric, won’t that create more CO2, asked the man from Asahi in a much more polite way than I can write. Ghosn’s answer:

”I don’t think that the last word has been spoken in terms of energy, In the next 10 or 20 years, we will see a lot of development in terms of energy. Less CO2 generation, more renewable energy is coming on stream. But one thing is common to all of these developments: We need to store energy. And the only way we can store energy is by developing the batteries. And here we are at the heart of the electrical car technical challenge. And that is what we are pursuing. We don’t think that anything that will happen in terms of energy will stop or reduce the importance of the battery as a unique way to store energy, no matter where this energy is generated from.”


Nissan and Renault are building factories in the UK, the U.S, and Portugal which will be able to produce a total of 500,000 batteries per years by 2015. By that time, 8 new EVs will be launched between Renault and Nissan.  500,000 batteries mean half a million EVs. Who will buy them by 2015? For instance the people that already make up Nissan’s largest market, and that deny license plates to conventional powered cars is their nation’s capital. Said Ghosn:

“As a zero emission leader, the Alliance is already better placed than its competitors to compete both in mature and emerging markets such as China, where environmental and regulatory realities as well as consumer demand are expected to dramatically increase the market share of electric cars.”


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16 Comments on “Carlos Ghosn: The EV Will Set You Free (It’s The Battery, Stupid)...”


  • avatar
    Acubra

    I failed to see any clear answers to any of the questions posted. The G-guy’s evasiveness reminds me of a manner in which some used car salesmen try to push a broken car by downplaying a BIG problem.
    Disgusting.

  • avatar
    drylbrg

    I still haven’t heard the solution to the problems EV’s have in very cold weather. When it’s -10F out and I’m running the heater for every BTU I can get out of it will it get me to work and back? That’s a very real worry for a fairly large segment of the US. Until there is a solution these things will only work on the coasts and in the South.

    • 0 avatar
      healthy skeptic

      True enough, but under such extremes, aren’t ICEs also adversely affected? I don’t live in a cold weather climate, but I’ve read of people using electric blankets over their hoods to keep the engine from getting too cold while it’s in the garage. -10F probably poses challenges for any vehicle.

      But you’re right: battery chemistry will need to better handle colder temps if EVs are to make a dent in Northern markets. Either that or, as the capacity of batteries improves, they’ll have to divert some of the battery’s energy to warming itself under cold conditions.

      • 0 avatar

        When I was a kid in Boston in the 1960s, it could take 10 minutes, beginning with a lot of fancy footwork to get the Peugeot warmed up enough to get going, a job that I relished. the Chevy II started right up on all but the most frigid days, although it, too, had to sit warming up for a while. My parents eventually got electric dipsticks for the cars.

        Those days are long gone. The Accord starts right up and is ready to go, even on the most frigid days.

      • 0 avatar
        tekdemon

        They are indeed affected but things like synthetic motor oil improve cold start efficiency and motors warm up pretty rapidly. The mileage is awful when cold but normal ICEs don’t stay cold for long even in the coldest weather since you’re literally burning fuel inside, and once it’s warmed up they perform like anywhere else. Not the case with EVs since you can’t warm the batteries up without depleting them.
        I’ve started my Camry when it was -11F outside and while the motor did not sound happy about it, it powered right up. The only time you really have a problem in modern cars is when your battery is so affected by the temperatures it can’t crank the engine enough to start.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Stories, stories . . . We had a 1996 Toyota Previa that we would use to take to our mountain place in the winter. It would start on the first turn even when it had been sitting over night in below zero (F) temperatures. No trick oil, no blankets, no engine block heaters. And the cabin would be heated up in about 15 minutes of driving.

        In the cold belt, its not uncommon to have an engine block heater (an available factory installed item), but it’s not essential. Obviously, its nice to be able to have a warm car quickly.

        This is a non-issue with today’s cars, probably until you’re getting into temperatures that are not common in the northern US, like -10 and down.

      • 0 avatar
        MrWhopee

        I don’t think ICEs are adversely affected by cold. Even in the coldest Minnesota winters my ICE cars would start just fine as long as the battery has sufficient power to crank. Once started, the battery got replenished and the engine started building heat. So, if there’s any problem with starting it’s usually the battery. The electric car has nothing but the battery to power it!

    • 0 avatar
      dhanson865

      I’m assuming you are talking about the unreliability factor of decreased range or the cost factor of decreased range due to cold. My thoughts below are on how to mange the downside somewhat.

      You know what heats the battery up the most? Charging it.

      So if you want the battery warm you leave it on the charger as much as possible. If you are charging overnight in a cold climate use the slow charger instead of the fast charger and it’ll still be warm when you go to use it.

      It’d be nice to see the fast charger give you a choice of charging rates so you could plug it in to the fast charger and ask for a 4 hour or 6 hour charge rate if you needed it or a 8 hour or even 10 hour charge rate if you weren’t in a hurry. Picking a charge rate that will leave you fully charged near the departure time will assure the battery is fully warm when you leave. Another fix would be to just put the charger on the timer so it charges closer to your departure time and ends up warm and fully charged as you are ready to leave.

      And if you plug it up at the destination to charge before the return trip (even if you have sufficient charge to make the trip, just plug in the slow charger to act as a “block heater”) you’ll be fine. But if you tend to park in the middle of an outdoor parking lot and let the car return to sub-0 temps you’ll at least need to switch to a Plug-in Hybrid instead of a pure EV.

      A Plug-in Hybrid is just as cold worthy as a normal ICE based vehicle (as in road worthy not efficiency). The gas engine will run the majority of the time in sub-0 temps (assuming you turn on the cabin heat control which you mentioned) and it’ll be charging the battery frequently enough to keep the battery temp well above freezing. And for the warmer months of the year you still get the benefits of using the cars EV mode or improved efficiency in the hybrid mode.

      And if you live far enough north or south that you don’t think a Plugin hybrid is for you then you are probably getting supplies air dropped from a C-17 (South Pole) or a bush pilot of some sort (Northern Alaska and other similar climates) and you have no business acting like you are in the target market for an EV.

      There are Canadian Prius drivers tooling around in some amazingly cold temps and bragging about how well it does like this quote:

      “I dunno but a car sitting in a 20°C underground garage and driven in ECO mode can have the engine shut down at a traffic light 3km away in -10°C temps. Pretty impressive if you ask me. (Actually, I have had the car run in EV mode at -40°C in ECO mode but the heater is off lol).”

  • avatar
    cmoibenlepro

    I think they could sell 500,000 leafs in Beijing alone if the plate lottery exemption for EV really happens.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    “the Alliance is already better placed than its competitors to compete both in mature and emerging markets such as China”

    Taken out of context, this statement could be fairly truthfully applied to the Renault Alliance!

  • avatar

    I don’t know whether the EV will set you free, but it could be part of an overall sea change in the way we create and distribute energy:

    Right now we are relying on large, central generating systems which then parcel out power to the surrounding consumers. This is so reminiscent of the past of computing.

    What about if there were a web of small “neighborhood”, or even personal generators (solar, wind, geothermal etc), which worked together? So rather than the central server – slave terminal model, we would be looking at something that is more like the Google server farm model where they balance computing needs between tens of thousands of standard PCs.

    This kind of network of smaller neightborhood systems joined in a web would easily self-heal. There would be no central giant power station waiting to take down a whole city grid.

    Now, couple that with the EV and you have something really potent and a genuine sea change in how we generate and distribute energy.

  • avatar
    djoelt1

    The industry doesn’t have to answer the question “how are you going to make my dualie 4 door pickup that can haul 10,000 lbs to Barrows Alaska in the middle of winter battery powered?” It only needs to answer “how can you make my temperate zone commuter car that goes 10 miles per day battery powered?” to have a huge market opportunity.

    My neighbor has an electric car that he charges with solar panels on the roof. The cost is already half what he paid for the system 4 years ago. In another 4 years it could be cheaper to own and drive a solar powered electric car than a gas car.

  • avatar

    That’s not Carlos Ghosn, that’s Arturo Toscanini!

    Great pics, interesting quote. Maybe Carlos read my post on Monday…

    • 0 avatar

      Well, as you read en passant in the NYT, there were (and are) Leafs in the stricken area. In the NYT piece, they receive short shrift over the iMiEV, which Ghosn doesn’t even consider serious competition.

      To quote from yesterday:

      “Currently we have more than 5,000 Nissan Leafs on the road, making it by far the biggest fleet of cars built from the ground up to be fully electric. In fact, we have more than twice the amount of purpose built EVs than any other automaker has ever delivered so far.“

      All majors have more or less quietly delivered cars up there. Toyota gave hybrids that were used as generators when there was no juice. Nissan gave Leafs for when there was electricity, but no gas.

      But apparently, the Mitsubishi guys had no qualms and got their car in the NYT.

      The picture in the NYT says in a split second what Ghosn explained yesterday in a few minutes. And he talks fast.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    I am confused… Barak Obama says EV’s are good and everyone has a fit, Carlos says EV’s are good and all of a sudden they might just be a good thing after all.


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