The Nissan LEAF was a pretty good electric car when it first went on sale in 2010. I have owned a 2015 model for the past 4 years and it has been a delight to drive, despite its short range. When it came time to consider something with more range, I considered a second generation LEAF but in my view, it just wasn’t competitive with the other electric cars available today. To be brutally frank, it felt like Nissan was trying to squeeze more juice out of its original LEAF program instead of getting ahead of the curve.
The new Nissan Ariya electric SUV has just arrived and sells for pretty much the same price as a Tesla Model Y when similarly equipped. Once again, Nissan has been content to play follow the leader. The Ariya may be a perfectly fine automobile, but it’s no Tesla. For roughly the same money, it gets a B whereas the Tesla merits an A or A+. To be honest, Nissan has been floundering ever since Carlos Ghosn was thrown overboard, content to keep on selling its traditional models and wishing all this electric car nonsense would just go away.
This week, Nissan announced it has a new plan. It is going to invest $18 billion over the next 5 years to bring more electrified models to market. In all, it says it will introduce 15 battery electric models and 8 models that feature the company’s ePower technology by 2030. It also says it wants to reduce battery costs by 65% over the next 8 year by eliminating cobalt as a part of its battery chemistry. It plans to bring cars with solid-state batteries to market by 2029. Nissan CEO Makoto Uchida said his company will make EVs affordable to more drivers. “We will advance our effort to democratize electrification.”
What Is An “Electrified” Car?
Here’s a curious thing. If you are not an avid follower of Nissan, you may not be familiar with its e-Power technology. You can be forgiven if you assume it includes a plug to charge the battery from an external source. Here’s how Nissan describes it on its website.
“The e-POWER system offers full electric motor drive, meaning that the wheels are completely driven by the electric motor. e-POWER is comprised of a high-output battery and the powertrain which is integrated with gasoline engine, power generator, inverter and a motor. In conventional hybrid systems, the wheels are driven by an electric motor and a gasoline engine. However, in the e-POWER system, the gasoline engine is not connected to the wheels; it simply charges the battery. And unlike a full EV, the power source is the engine, rather than just the battery.”
Does that sound like a “self-charging electric car,” which is how Toyota describes its traditional Prius? Yes, it does. Think of it as a Chevy Volt without a charging port. It is a Prius powertrain rejiggered so it avoids infringing on Toyota’s hybrid patents. Does that sound like Nissan is going all in on the EV revolution? Hardly.
So how did the financial community react to the big announcement by Nissan? The stock dropped 5.6% the next day. Masayuki Otani, a senior analyst at Securities Japan, told Reuters, “Nissan’s long term vision comes at a time when the market is perhaps not receptive to it. It can be said that it represents a huge increase in investment. It feels cautious.” Indeed, it all does sound rather cautious, which is quite the opposite of what Volkswagen under Herbert Diess is doing. Will Nissan even be around in 2030? The jury is still out on that question.
Nissan’s Battery Strategy
According to Car Scoops, Nissan expects that by 2026, electrified cars will account for 75% of sales in Europe and the UK, 55% of sales in Japan, and 40% in China. Nissan is targeting 40% EV sales in the US by 2030. It is building a new battery factory in the UK that will make enough batteries to power 100,000 cars a year. It intends on increasing its global battery production capacity to 52 GWh by 2026 and 130 GWh by 2030.
“The role of companies to address societal needs is increasingly heightened,” Uchida said in a statement. “With Nissan Ambition 2030, we will drive the new age of electrification, advance technologies to reduce carbon footprint and pursue new business opportunities. We want to transform Nissan to become a sustainable company that is truly needed by customers and society.”
The Vision Thing
What the Nissan plan lacks in commitment to battery electric vehicles, it more than makes up for with 4 concept cars it unveiled as part of its new investment program.The first is the Chill Out, a vehicle built for comfort and watching videos projected on the front windshield.
Next is the Max Out, a roadster type vehicle meant to attain new heights of handling, performance, and coolness.
The Surf Out is an electric 2-door pickup.
And finally, the Hang Out, a tranquil oasis at the end of a long day.
I am nobody from nowhere, but to my mind, it seems Nissan is wasting a lot of time dreaming up cutesy concepts and not enough time buckling down to the task of making compelling electric cars. It says it only plans to be selling 40% electrified cars in America 8 years from now. That’s not good enough. Not by a long shot. If that’s the plan, it will be out of business everywhere long before then with the possible exception of its home market in Japan.
The second generation LEAF is non-competitive. The Ariya is a lukewarm attempt to create an electric SUV, but it doesn’t have anything an ID.4. Kia EV6, or Hyundai Ioniq 5 doesn’t have. And compared to Tesla? Forget about it. Tesla is in the fast lane and puling away, while Nissan is bumping along in the slow lane and telling itself it has plenty of time to catch up.
It doesn’t. It is leaning on 30-year-old ordinary hybrids to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. It should liquidate now and give that $18 billion to its shareholders while there’s still time. Halfhearted products aren’t going to cut it much longer. Time to get serious or fold. I don’t see Nissan having a market presence outside of Japan after 2026. Your opinion may vary. See dealer for details.
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