Brock Yates: Does Carlos Ghosn Dream of Electric Sheep?

Brock Yates
by Brock Yates
We’re committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using links in our articles. Learn more here
brock yates does carlos ghosn dream of electric sheep

The French haven’t had much influence on the car world for some time. Up until the last decade or so, their automobiles have been goofy little nuts-on-wheels from outer space– especially compared to machines from neighboring Germany, Italy or Japan, not to mention Detroit. But now we’ve got a Frog who’s in play worldwide. You want to talk about an internationalist? Carlos Ghosn was born in Brazil to Lebanese parents. The CEO who rescued both Nissan and Renault speaks six languages fluently and divides his time between Tokyo and Paris. If anybody understands the worldwide car biz, it’s Carlos Ghosn.

Ghosn doesn’t sell his Renaults in the USA. But Nissan is a strong player here and that gives him a major say in what goes on in Detroit— which he claims is in deep shit. During a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Ghosn said that GM, Ford and Chrysler may very well collapse as the imports seize more and more of their home turf. Ghosn slammed Detroiters, asserting that Motown’s ongoing reliance on pickups, SUVs and large luxury cars will dump them into this ditch.

Ghosn thinks that the little econo-boxes his companies sell elsewhere in the world are the future. He claims that one or all of Detroit’s Big Three will fail as the world switches to tiny machines powered by something other than aged but efficient petroleum-powered internal combustion engines. Without that kind of machine to sell in its home market, someone domestic’s going down.

Of course a lot of the guys in Detroit think he’s nuts. And I’m inclined to agree. Yeah, The Big Three are losing market share. But there are still some very smart guys in the Motor City. You never know what smart people can do when they have their backs up against a wall. And Detroit may be truck heavy in gas-conscious times, but SUVs and trucks still account for around half of the US market.

Anyway, so what if one of the Big Three goes belly-up?

No matter who wins the race for president, you can be sure the powers in Washington aren’t going to sit around while our auto industry collapses. The industry is too essential not only to the state of Michigan, but all of the other states. Millions of jobs and billions of dollars are at stake. No one at any level of government is going to let Detroit disappear. A federal bailout is a done deal.

And yet Carlos’ prediction of doom and gloom will please the lefties and environmentalist nutcases who hate cars and the domestic auto industry and don’t mind if Detroit falls down— just as long as they force everyone to drive electric-powered cars.

Trust me: as long as bottom line thinkers like Carlos Ghosn remain in power, the world of conventionally-powered automobiles will be a part of our landscape for a long time. That’s where the money is.

That’s not to say Ghosn isn’t serious about developing electric cars. He’s signed-up with NEC to develop a lithium-ion battery for mass market automobiles. Nissan/Renault has also allied themselves with battery maker A123. And they’ve formed a partnership with Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi to test the waters for commercial EVs.

Many people say these li-ion-powered electric cars will be good enough for Americans and their short commutes. That remains to be seen, both in terms of actual practice and consumer acceptance.

But even if Nissan develops an electric car with sufficient range, even if America takes to battery-powered zero-emissions automobiles, it’s doubtful our overwrought power grid could cope. Expand the grid? Easier said than done.

Meanwhile, millions of modern automobiles and trucks are linked to a massive petroleum system that is not only efficient, but sustains our economy. Switching away from this system and developing other sources of power for modern vehicles is a huge concept that only a few people (including Ghosn) are prepared to suggest– never mind assault.

No matter. Mr. Ghosn and many others both inside and outside the car industry are working hard to make their electric dreams come true. Based on Ghosn’s success with two companies, divided half-way around the world, one has to take his efforts seriously.

At best, EVs are a long term prospect. For the near future, this is all chatter aimed at shareholders, regulators and the media. Ghosn has to be smart enough to know that the current automobile— four rubber tires, a steel or aluminum body and the aforementioned gas-powered engine– is here to stay. (Yes, you can add batteries, but it’s still gas-powered.)

If Carlos is right and one of The Big Three files for bankruptcy, it won’t be because they didn’t “go green” and make small, electric-powered cars. It'll be down to the fact that they didn’t make the reliable, comfortable, stylish, reasonably fuel-efficient, gas-powered cars that Americans prefer.

Brock Yates
Brock Yates

More by Brock Yates

Join the conversation
2 of 91 comments
  • Pch101 Pch101 on Feb 11, 2008
    I enjoy discussions with you, PCH, and am not going to stop enjoying them because of this thread, but I think you went of the track a while back on this one. I enjoy jousting with you as well. I am pointing out that when you make statements as polarizing as this... Furthermore, governments are certainly NOT supposed to provide economic security. They are not capable of doing so, and it has failed every time it has been tried. There is NO SUCH THING as economic security. None, zero, nada. Trying to create it will DESTROY an economy. Please point out where you think that actually worked. ...that it is pretty clear that enter the discussion with a highly specific political agenda that shapes your interpretation of the issue before you've even begun to assess it. Essentially, you've already stated that you are adamantly against any sort of bailout on principle. So of course you would oppose this one, no matter what the facts were, because your philosophy doesn't allow for you to ever see them as having any merit. A clear analysis would require one to take the facts and review them in context with one another, before reaching a conclusion based upon those results. If you are going to come to the table with a predetermined, hardened belief that regards all bailouts as unacceptable forms of governmental intervention, irrespective of the circumstances, then it's obviously not possible for you to take a more neutral approach.
  • Stephan Wilkinson Stephan Wilkinson on Feb 11, 2008

    Oh god, it's like trying to dam the leak in the Zuider Zee with the Dutchboy's finger. There's no stoppin' it.

  • 285exp If the conversion to EVs was really so vital to solve an existential climate change crisis, it wouldn’t matter whether they were built by US union workers or where the batteries and battery materials came from.
  • El scotto Another EBPosky, "EVs are Stoopid, prove to me water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius" article.It was never explained if the rural schools own the buses or if the school bus routes are contracted out. If the bus routes are contracted out, will Carpenter or Bluebird offer an electric school bus? Flexmatt never stated the range of brand-unspecified school bus. Will the min-mart be open at the end of the 179-mile drive? No cell coverage? Why doesn't the bus driver have an emergency sat phone?Two more problems Mr. Musk could solve.
  • RICK Long time Cadillac admirer with 89 Fleetwood Brougham deElegance and 93 Brougham, always liked Eldorado until downsized after 76. Those were the days. Sad to see what now wears Cadillac name.
  • Carsofchaos Bike lanes are in use what maybe 10 to 12 hours a day? The other periods of the day they aren't in use whatsoever. A bike can carry one person and a vehicle can carry multiple people. It's very simple math to figure out that a bike lane in no way shape or form will handle more people than cars will.The bigger issue is double parked delivery vehicles. They are often double parked and taking up lanes because there are cars parked on the curb. You combine that with a bike lane and pedestrians Crossing wherever they feel like it and it's a recipe for disaster. I think if we could just go back to two lanes of traffic things would flow much better. I started coming to the city in 2003 before a lot of these bike lanes were implemented and the traffic is definitely much worse now than it was back then. Sadly at this point I don't really think there is a solution but I can guarantee that congestion pricing will not fix this problem.
  • Charles When I lived in Los Angeles I saw a 9-5 a few times and instanly admired the sweeping low slug aerodynamic jet tech influenced lines and all that beautiful glass. The car was very different from what I expected from a Saab even though the 900 Turbo was nice. A casual lady friend had a Saab Sonnet, never drove or rode in it but nonetheless chilled my enthusiasm and I eventually forgot about Saabs. In the following years I have had seven Mercedes's, three or four Jaguars even two Daimlers both the 250 V-8 and the massive and powerful Majestic Major. Daily drivers of a brand new 300ZX 2+2 and Lincolns, plus a few diesel trucks. Having moved to my big farm in central New York, trucks and SUV's are the standard, even though I have a Mercedes S500 in one of my barns. Due to circumstances with my Ford Explorer and needing a second driver I found the 2006 9-5 locally. Very little surface rust, none undercarriage, original owner, garage kept, wife driver and all the original literature and a ton of paid receipts and history. The car just turned 200,000 miles and I love it. Feels new like I'm back in my Nissan 300ZX with a lot more European class and ready power with the awesome turbo. So fun to drive, the smooth power and torque is incredible! Great price paid to justify going through the car and giving her everything she needs, i.e., new tires, battery, all shocks, struts, control arms, timing chain and rust removable to come, plus more. The problem now is I want to restore it and likely put it in my concrete barn and only drive in good weather. As to the writer, Alex Dykes, I take great exception calling the 9-5 Saab "ugly," finding myself looking back at her beauty and uniqueness. Moreover, I get new looks from others not quite recognizing, like the days out west with my more expensive European cars. There are Saabs eclipsing 300K rourinely and one at a million miles and I believe one car with 500K on the original engine. So clearly, this is a keeper, in love already with my SportCombi. I want to be in that elite club.