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Autonomous Vehicles

Published on January 15th, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan


Nissan & Renault CEO & Chairman Talks Electric Cars, Autonomous Driving, & OTA Updates (Videos)

January 15th, 2016 by  

Kyle passed along a video from the Detroit Auto Show of Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of both Renault and Nissan, doing a Q&A with reporters. It’s an interesting watch, so I’m dropping it here as well, followed by some summary points and commentary.

I’m definitely a Ghosn fan. I love the direct, honest way that he talks, and think he has very good vision. However, despite reiterating support for EVs and Nissan-Renault’s leadership in that realm again, he also spoke a bit bearishly about the market and consumer demand. He seems to have become more bearish in the past year or two about EVs — probably because sales didn’t take off as much as he projected back when the LEAF launched, but perhaps there are other factors at play as well (like Nissan soon losing its competitive advantage in the mass-market EV segment). Also, he consistently ignores (i.e., doesn’t highlight) the huge drive quality and convenience benefits of EVs when he talks about them.

Overall, Ghosn still struggles, it seems, with the challenge of running giant companies that have huge legacy ICE investments while trying to be a leader in the EV space.

He has a clever and interesting response regarding Sergio Marchionne’s honest (if not proactive) stance on EVs eating into automakers’ limited competitive advantage (something I’ve covered very directly here: #1 Reason Why Big Auto Isn’t Big On EV Revolution?). But he doesn’t really acknowledge that the transition is a huge threat even to Renault-Nissan. (Naturally, he can’t, and I think he did about as well with that question as anyone in his shoes could, but it did display how differently these big automakers are basically forced to approach the EV market.)

As part of that, it seems Ghosn has transitioned to a “slow EV growth” ideology. He just doesn’t have the bullish enthusiasm it seemed he had in the past. And he focuses a lot on the importance of charging but doesn’t acknowledge that Level 3 charging just won’t cut it (particularly once the Model 3 is out there). It was exciting to hear him say that vendors are pitching technology to charge a LEAF to 80% in 10 minutes rather than 30 minutes, but he makes it sound like this is just at an extremely early stage right now and Nissan isn’t investing in a super-fast charging network yet… which means it is WAY behind Tesla. Tesla Superchargers are about twice as fast at charging as the DC Fast chargers BMW & Nissan are partnering on, not to mention better integrated. Superchargers just barely make road trips convenient/acceptable to the masses (not just EV-enthusiast early adopters and first followers). Level 3 DC fast chargers just aren’t going to cut it at current speeds.

While Ghosn said Nissan holds its plans close to its chest until the car/tech is about ready to hit market, I get the impression that even if Nissan unleashes a 200+ mile EV this year (a slim possibility), it will suffer from the same thing the Chevy Bolt suffers from — impractical use for long-distance road trips (despite better practicality for regional trips) and limited performance/tech/appeal. Many, many people will hold out another year for the Model 3 if they can.

However, Ghosn has been keen on Nissan being a leader in autonomous driving, so maybe a new EV from Nissan would try to compete with Tesla on that front (minus the deep learning the Tesla fleet is doing, of course… which is going to be a big factor in the coming years, I think).

To me, the whole conversation keeps Nissan (& GM, Mitsubishi, & BMW) on a 2nd tier well below Tesla. There’s still the lack of Supercharging (which I think is critical for long-distance travel for the mass market). There’s still limited focus on the two huge advantages of electric cars — instant torque and convenience. There’s still no indication that Nissan has sophisticated autonomous driving or over-the-air (OTA) updates coming to an electric car.

Nonetheless, Ghosn does have a handful of interesting responses — especially regarding the importance of OTA updates (about 5 minutes in), so check out the video. 


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About the Author

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species). He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor. He's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

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