Nissan Exec: Uber, Not Tesla, a Bigger Threat

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson
nissan exec uber not tesla a bigger threat

John Martin, Nissan North America’s senior vice president of manufacturing and supply chain management, had some harsh words for Tesla on Friday. According to him, Uber — not Tesla — is the real disruptor, and what Tesla is doing now is relatively easy, Automotive News reported.

“Lot’s of people are calling Tesla a disrupter. They are not,” he said while arguing that building a performance vehicle that’s priced over $100,000 is much easier than manufacturing an electric car for under $30,000.

And what about Apple and Google? Martin doesn’t foresee either of them getting into the auto manufacturing business anytime soon.

The reason: The profit margin in building cars is too low to interest the technology giants. While cars typically return 10-percent margins, those companies are used to 30 to 40-percent margins from their products.

But, Martin really drove home his view on Tesla.

“People ask me: ‘When are you going to compete with Tesla?’ And I ask them, ‘When is Tesla going to compete against me?’”

As for Uber, Martin sees them as a bigger threat as they are a service provider with significantly lower costs than a manufacturer. Uber is mixing it up in the taxi space and pushing the taxi industry as a whole to evolve.

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18 of 47 comments
  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Oct 13, 2015

    Q: "When is Tesla going to compete against me?" A1: Now, because Tesla's $75-140k cars are outselling your $35k Leafs. A2: 2018, and I might be first in line for a Model 3. (Former Leaf driver).

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    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Oct 13, 2015

      @jkross22 If you're shopping for an EV for whatever reason, then yes, people are cross-shopping Leafs and Teslas, and BMW i3s. Their customer demographics overlap.

  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Oct 13, 2015

    SCE to AUX - your comment does illustrate the failure of EV's to penetrate the car market in any significant volumes. People who want to save the world and buy 35k Leaf EV's most likely can afford the 75-140k Tesla. If I'm in the market for a compact/subcompact commuter urban runabout I'd rather get a Micra for 10k or Versa for 14k. The majority or buyers are going to be very price sensitive.

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    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Oct 13, 2015

      SCE to AUX - thanks for the input. Always nice to have first hand information. EV's as they currently stand are great for shorter commute high urban density regions with more temperate climates.

  • APaGttH APaGttH on Oct 13, 2015

    Completely agree, Tesla is not a disruptive innovator, it is an evolutionary innovator. ...An innovation that improves a product in an existing market in ways that customers are expecting... Automobiles already exist. Electric powered cars have existed for more than a century. Modern production electric cars were built a few times since the 70s - the failed EV-1 the most current example (just because it failed, doesn't mean it doesn't count on the historical timeline). Tesla is not creating a new market for automobiles - they've improved upon it. Uber on the other hand is a disruptive innovation. Uber has created a new market in on-demand transportation (along with Lyft) that could overtake the existing markets (traditional taxi and livery business model) and make it obsolete. One could argue that the horseless carriage was an evolutionary innovation. The development of mass production of the automobile, instead of hand built coaches, was the disruptive innovation that enabled putting an automobile in every garage, ending the horse drawn era.

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    • APaGttH APaGttH on Oct 13, 2015

      @SCE to AUX You're not understanding the differences between: Evolutionary innovation Revolutionary innovation Disruptive innovation Building an electric car is not "disruptive." It is a car. It has an "engine" (albeit electric), it requires "fuel" (stored electricity), it has seats, and an accelerator, and a brake, and four wheels, and brakes, and cargo storage, and windows that roll up and down, and meets all required DOT standards for a motor vehicle to be registered and driven on US roads. It still requires maintenance and has consumables (less than an ICE vehicle). The use of electric propulsion in a car is not disruptive - the technology has existed for over 100 years. A long list of makers are working on electric cars with 250 miles range that the masses can afford. Several makers have electric cars today, and a couple sell in note worthy volume (Leaf comes right to mind). There isn't anything here "disruptive." Tesla has said they would share patents to anyone (remember) and their network. So in other words if Ford wanted to build a Tesla based vehicle they could - the only barrier to entry is their own R&D using the road map of the Tesla patents. That isn't rocket science, buy a Model S and take it apart (which I'm sure has already been done by every maker). Remember Back to the Future? Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads. That would be an example of a disruptive technology. The Tesla line are evolutionary - they are still cars. Fully self-driving cars where the auto maker also takes on full liability, and say the person operating it pays usage by the mile back to the auto maker? That would be an example of a disruptive technology. It isn't to disparage what Tesla has done, but not every innovation in a space is "disruptive." Your own reply makes the point that Tesla is not disruptive. They've been around for almost 13 years now, and they have yet to not only put anyone out of business, they haven't even been a blip on any companies sales and performance targets. You can't suggest the Fiat e500, Volt, Leaf, eSpark, Energi Fusion, C-Max, or ePrius competes with Tesla in any way or matter. None of these vehicles are luxury cars, not even close. None of them are CUVs either, can't seat 7, and come in price points that are 1/4 to 1/2 of a stripper Tesla. Now if the Model S in its package was being sold at $30K each MSRP - I would give you that is disruptive. One area where you could say Tesla could be disruptive today is not their products, but their channels. They are definitely disrupting the traditional dealer model -- but until volume increases the judge and jury is out. As for Amazon and 15 years ago? Every analyst was falling over themselves declaring brick and mortar dead industry walking and Amazon was constantly on the lips of companies disrupting the brick and mortar market. It took longer than thought, but the Internet has lived up to its expectation.

  • Lynn Ellsworth Lynn Ellsworth on Oct 14, 2015

    Fascinating. A while back posters on this web site were hoping the large Ford rear drive cars with V8s and stick shifts would stay around. Now many of the posters are assuming Uber, (far simpler) electric cars, and autonomous drive are inevitable. I like the change in what posters here are writing My electric car doesn't drip fluids and my garage is cleaner. In a few years when I need a new car battery the old battery will still have enough capacity to be used for home energy storage.

    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Oct 14, 2015

      Lynn E. - there still is a bunch of posters who'd want large V8 stick shift rear drive cars to be around. Accepting what is inevitable is often completely different than what one wants. The Serenity prayer sums it up rather nicely: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference."