Ghosn Sees Industry BEV Plans as Vindication

Under Ghosn, Nissan, along with Tesla, led the industry’s charge on battery-electric vehicles in 2009 – a strategy widely questioned at the time. Now the former Nissan CEO predicts the industry will go “100% electric” in the future.

Roger Schreffler

December 16, 2021

4 Min Read
GettyImages-Carlos Ghosn 2009 Nissan Leaf - Copy
Carlos Ghosn with Nissan Leaf at 2009 Tokyo Motor Show.

It was déjà vu all over again last week with Carlos Ghosn back on center stage talking about battery-electric vehicles.

Of course, the former Nissan CEO and head of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, who currently is living in exile in Lebanon, discussed his criminal case in front of a huge audience of journalists at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, but fresher ground was covered when he was asked about his observations on BEVs.

Meeting by way of Zoom (pictured below, left), Ghosn spoke about his early leadership role in BEVs along with Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his contention that his sudden ouster from Nissan management three years ago is a loss for Nissan and the industry as well.

Carlos Ghosn screenshot Zoom Dec 2021.png

Carlos Ghosn screenshot Zoom Dec 2021

This latest press conference came 12 years after his seminal talk at the club, two days before the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show, in which he laid out Nissan’s strategic commitment to move into electric vehicles.

He had informed Nissan shareholders of the plan a year earlier in June 2008 while committing €4 billion ($4.5 billion) to bring a lineup of BEVs to the market, both by Nissan and Renault. At the time, Ghosn estimated that EVs (possibly including plug-in hybrids) would account for 10% of global car sales in 2020.

In a wide-ranging Q&A, Ghosn had this to say:

  • On the issue of risks in investing in electric cars: “The common sense of the market (is that the industry) is going 100% electric. I don’t think there is an over-investment issue because I think the whole industry is moving this direction. And this is a huge industry. We’re talking about 85-90 million cars sold per year. So when you see these investments, which I don’t think are too much, I think we’re going to see a shift, a very important shift, from old technology to this new technology.

  • On the transition from internal-combustion-engine vehicles: “The difficulty for traditional carmakers is how are they going to stop the old investments (in combustion engines). Are they going to be able to resist the old boys in their (respective) companies telling them ‘You still need this engine’ or ‘It’s not true that the electric car is going to be 100% of the market. The speed of this shift is going to determine who’s going to be a winner. And the market is betting that Elon Musk will be the winner. Why? Because he doesn’t have any baggage.”

  • On Nissan’s 2009 strategy and launch of electric Leaf: “Everybody was laughing at us. ‘The electric car will not work,’ ‘There are no batteries,’ ‘They are too expensive,’ ‘They are not powerful enough,’ and all those sorts of issues.” Now, he says there currently are no car companies “not planning to be totally zero emission, totally electric in 2025, 2030, even 2035.”

  • On Nissan’s plans announced in November to invest ¥2 trillion ($18.5 billion) over the next five years and to launch 15 new EVs by 2030: “In order to act in this industry, you need to have a vision. You need to have a conviction. You need to have a belief. You need to have knowledge. And you need to have experience. When I look at the people managing (Nissan), they’re followers. Just like before 1999, Nissan was always following Toyota, wanting to imitate Toyota here, wanting to imitate them there, and being afraid to be ambitious. There is no future for that kind of mentality, and there is no future for that kind of culture.”

  • On whether Nissan can deliver on its plan: “Frankly, I can’t comment because I don’t know what led to their decision. But in our industry, 5% is a ‘statement’ and 95% is execution. We’ve heard a lot of grandiose plans, where people are going to invest billions of dollars to develop a technology. But at the end of the day, what counts is what you are able to execute (deliver). Can you execute? Can you execute with discipline? Can you execute with focus? Unfortunately, when I look at the bottom line of Nissan it’s not impressive. Even their so-called return to profit (projected at 2% this year) is the weakest operational result since 1999 if we exclude the year of the financial crisis (2008 and 2009) when everybody tanked. So where are they going to get all this cash to invest?”

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