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.
More by Brock Yates
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