04 May 2011: Interview

Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn Seeks
Revenge for the Electric Car

Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn believes the technology currently exists to produce affordable, all-electric cars that will find a global market. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about Nissan’s new Leaf and why he is confident that, despite earlier setbacks, the time for all-electric vehicles is now.

As the first non-Japanese head of a Japanese automaker, Carlos Ghosn shook up the Nissan Motor Co. with his blunt, aggressive style. Now he’s made perhaps his boldest move yet: committing his company’s future — and his own considerable reputation — to the success of the new all-electric Leaf.

The Leaf, which last month was named 2011 World Car of the Year, is now being sold in the U.S. and Japan, with plans to expand to other global markets next year, and Nissan has invested $5 billion — more than half of its 2007-2012 research budget — in the development of electric vehicles. But Ghosn says he has no doubt that the electric car’s moment has arrived.

Carlos Ghosn Nissan
Carlos Ghosn
“For people who are really interested in zero-emission mobility, with a reasonable performance, the electric car is the best solution,” he says, noting that after years of false starts, “the necessary technology is now ready.”

In an interview with Yale Environment 360 editor Roger Cohn, Ghosn discussed why he believes electric cars will represent 10 percent of the world market by 2020; how private businesses, not governments, will provide the necessary network of public charging stations; and how China will soon become the biggest new market for electric vehicles.

“The first cars in the industry were electric cars,” Ghosn said. “So when people say you’re pioneering electric cars, we’re going to say that electric cars always existed. What we’re pioneering is affordable electric cars — that’s where the revolution is taking place.”

Yale Environment 360: In the new film, Revenge of the Electric Car, Dan Neil of the Wall Street Journal says you’re putting your career and Nissan’s future on the line by going for the electric car and the Leaf. You’re known as a strong-willed and bottom line-oriented executive. What made you decide to make the leap to the Leaf?

Carlos Ghosn: I think obviously the media exaggerated a little bit the risk and the stakes and everything, which is normal. But one of the reasons that we are undertaking this investment is the fact that it makes a lot of sense. We have the technology ready not only to develop the products but all the components that lead to the products — like the battery, the motor, the inverter, et cetera. We have this technology, and we think that the performance that we reach is the performance that makes the product attractive to the consumer.

We have an analysis as a corporation that zero-emission cars are part of the future, no matter what. We can discuss about when and how much, but nobody today can seriously say there is no place for zero-emission mobility in the panorama of the car industry. So all of this led to an obvious decision, that if we have the technology and we can produce an affordable car that will have good performance, well, we’re going to need to launch a product.

e360: Why the decision to go to an electric car instead of a hybrid?

Ghosn: These are two completely different products, it’s not either/or. We have hybrids and we are marketing hybrids in our lineup, and we have electric cars. I don’t think it’s either/or. I think there are some uses for hybrids that make a lot of sense, and there are some uses for zero-emission mobility that make perfect sense. And I think the challenge that many car manufacturers are facing is to make sure that they have a long list of technologies being implemented in different products and for different uses that are absolutely tailored for the need of the consumer. And the electric car is one of them.

e360: Psychologically, Americans, in particular, who are used to the freedom of their wheels, are going to think about the Leaf’s range of 100 miles or less, and are going to think, ‘Is that going to be enough for me?’

Ghosn: Obviously, for a lot of consumers, the range of 100 miles is not enough. It’s obvious. That’s why we’re not saying the electric car is going to represent 50 percent of the marketplace. We’re talking about 10 percent of the marketplace in 10 years. Even 10 percent of the global marketplace is about 7 million cars. Coming out of 20,000, which were sold last year, that
Obviously, for a lot of consumers, the range of 100 miles is not enough.”
is a tremendous margin of progress. I don’t dispute the fact that for many people in the public, the range for electric cars may represent a reason for hesitating or saying, ‘It’s not for me now.’ But for all the people who are really interested in zero-emission mobility, with a reasonable performance, the electric car is the best solution. And my opinion is this represents more than 10 percent of the market. That’s our first step. Within the next 10 years, 10 percent of the marketplace will be made by electric cars. And this will increase as a function of the performance of the electric car.

e360: And so, 10 years, 10 percent. What about in 25 years? Do you see electric cars making up a larger share of the market?

Ghosn: Without any doubt. But it doesn’t make sense to make forecast 25 years down the road, knowing that the performance of the product is going to change a lot. The range is going to get bigger, the battery is going to get smaller, cheaper, the car is going to have much better performance. So I think trying to guess today what’s going to be the performance of the car three or four years down the road is useless. I think we will revise the forecast with the revision of the performance of the car. But there is no doubt for me that the bottom line now is 10 percent of the global market 10 years down the road.

e360: It was interesting to me what you said this morning, which I hadn’t expected you to say, about not being that concerned about cities and governments doing the infrastructure for charging stations, and looking more to the marketplace to do that. Could you explain that a little?

Nissan Leaf
Getty Images
The Nissan Leaf
Ghosn: The government’s responsibility is to create the condition for the market to perform — to initiate technology, or to offer the basic conditions for this technology to flourish, or to serve as a catalyst for something to happen. That’s where I see government cannot be replaced. But then after this, the faster you move to market forces, the better it is. That’s what needs to happen in terms of infrastructure. That’s what I meant by saying the faster we move toward private enterprises and market forces, where the electric car is considered an opportunity, where businesses can bring people to their store or people to their business or people to their fuel station. The faster we get there the better.

e360: Are there models for that now that are doing that, or prototypes or places that are doing that? Are there private businesses in the marketplace that have built recharging stations?

Ghosn: It is too early, but what I can tell you is that we have a partnership in Germany with a utility company, RWE. And the CEO of RWE told me that he is very interested in making investment in some cities in terms of infrastructure in order to be able to sell his electricity. So this is a great example about how markets and entrepreneurship are going to do the job.

e360: It takes right now to charge the Leaf, how long? I guess it depends on the charging station itself?

Ghosn: Yes, if you are on a slow normal charge, it takes eight hours.

e360: That would be for home use?

Ghosn: Yes, but if you go for a fast-charging device, 30 minutes.

e360: And that’s what you would envision for the supermarket or the movie theater that might put in a charging station?

Ghosn: Exactly. The fast-charging station should develop in many areas because it will make sense for malls or fuel stations or trading places to have the user of the electric car stopping by, fast charge their car, shop your shop, or buy whatever they want.

e360: Which could also be an image builder for some companies that want to present themselves as green businesses. You were saying that about rental companies, but would also be an image builder for retail operations.

Ghosn: Exactly. On top of the business that you’re driving, you have also a question of image.

e360: You mentioned this morning hydrogen fuel cell cars. Nissan has some in development?

Ghosn: We have prototype. We are testing fuel cell cars today. We are developing fuel cell cars.

e360: Do you have any projections about when you would have one?

Ghosn: No, today, no. Today we don’t have any projection. But the fuel cell technology is probably five years behind electric cars. Five years behind
Fuel cell technology is probably five years behind electric cars.”
not in terms of technological knowledge, but in terms of cost reduction and affordability.

e360: You mentioned this morning you’ve been getting good feedback on the Leaf from users. Is the U.S. the first place you’re introducing it?

Ghosn: No. Japan and the U.S. are the two places.

e360: I think it was mentioned 5,000 are on order in the U.S. How many in Japan? Do you think you’ll be able to fill those orders for the Leaf this year.

Ghosn: Yes. This year, yes.

e360: In Japan, they’re on order as well, or they’re actually on the road now?

Ghosn: There are a lot of cars on the road. Production is going up. As you know, in the U.S. we reopened order-taking for the Leaf after closing it for a while.

e360: For the consumer, what do you see the prime selling point or attractiveness? Is it the green aspect or saving money?

Ghosn: Objectively, you have plenty of advantages for the consumer. Depending on the consumer, he’ll weigh some aspects more than others. There is an economic advantage. When you make your calculation about the cost of the car, plus the cost of electricity, plus the cost of gasoline, et cetera, today it’s a great buy. Particularly with the price of oil moving on, and the price of gasoline being more than four dollars on the gallon. So it’s a great buy. Second, it’s a good environmental decision. A lot of people want to be driving or be driven in a car that is neutral to the environment. No emission, no gasoline, no noise, nothing. That’s number two.

And then number three, is the driving pleasure of the electric car, which is unique. You get into this car, there is no vibration, there is no noise, there is no smell, it’s great acceleration, so the driving performance of the car itself can be also a reason why some consumers would say, ‘I like this car.’


A Roadmap to the
Future for Electric Cars

Can Electric Vehicles Take Off?
A Roadmap to Find the Answer
Electric cars are finally coming to market in the U.S., but what is the future potential for this much-touted technology? A good way to find out would be to launch demonstration projects in selected U.S. cities to determine if the public will truly embrace plug-in vehicles.
It’s a great buy, it’s a unique driving experience, and at the same time for those people who are conscious about the environment, it’s a good thing to do. Some consumers are more attuned to consider the environment, others more attuned to consider the economy. But objectively, the zero-emission technology and the electric car offer a lot of advantages.

e360: You’ve noted that you were surprised and somewhat embarrassed to be considered a pioneer in all this, because it seemed like such an obvious thing that should have been done already. Can you explain that a little bit?

Ghosn: Well, the first cars in the industry were electric. So when people say you’re pioneering electric cars, we’re going to say electric cars always existed. What we’re pioneering is affordable electric cars. This is where the revolution is taking place...

e360: Why do you think it took this long?

Ghosn: Because at a certain point in time, when the necessary technology is ready, and you make your own analysis, and you know that you need to move into this direction, someone’s going to have to say, ‘OK, we’re going to bite the bullet, and we’re going to move forward.’ In every technology, somebody’s going to have to move first. It’s us, and we’re proud of moving first because we think it’s going to bring a lot of benefit. It’s going to be a great investment. But on top of that it’s going to bring a lot to the image of the company and to the image of the brand.

e360: Do you see China as your number one market in terms of size?

Ghosn: For the future, without any doubt. I think it’s going to be between China and the United States. It’s difficult to give you any information because we don’t know yet what is the official policy that the Chinese government wants for electric cars. When we get that policy, then we can make a much clearer statement. But it looks like they’re going to be extremely forceful in promoting electric car technology.


To view this content, you must have Javascript enabled in your browser preferences. You will also need to download the latest Flash Player.
Carlos Ghosn speaks at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

POSTED ON 04 May 2011 IN Business & Innovation Business & Innovation Energy Energy Science & Technology Asia North America North America 


Excellent interview. Electric cars are the future clean ones.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

Posted by Dr.A.Jagadeesh on 04 May 2011

It's a gray area, but I think it's more accurate to say that electric was one of the first automotive technologies, not the first. Also, electric cars aren't zero emission because the power plants emit.

So while I love electric cars and I totally applaud Nissan for producing the Leaf, I am a bit disappointed by his presentation of it.

Posted by sw on 06 May 2011

"committing his company’s future — and his own considerable reputation — to the success of the new all-electric Leaf."

Well, they still produce a lot of other ICE cars, don't they?

Posted by Diego Matter on 19 Aug 2011

Comments have been closed on this feature.



Can Uber-Style Buses Help
Relieve India's Air Pollution?

India’s megacities have some the deadliest air and worst traffic congestion in the world. But Indian startups are now launching initiatives that link smart-phone apps and private shuttle buses and could help keep cars and other motorized vehicles off the roads.

Can Pulling Carbon from Air
Make a Difference on Climate?

Numerous technologies exist to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and new companies are entering the field. But can CO2 ‘air capture’ scale up from a niche business to an industry that will lower atmospheric concentrations of CO2?

How 'Third Way' Technologies
Can Help Turn Tide on Climate

In a Yale Environment 360 interview, Australian scientist and author Tim Flannery explains how the development of technologies that mimic the earth’s natural carbon-removing processes could provide a critical tool for slowing global warming.

How China and U.S. Became
Unlikely Partners on Climate

Amid tensions between the U.S. and China, one issue has emerged on which the two nations are finding common ground: climate change. Their recent commitments on controlling emissions have created momentum that could help international climate talks in Paris in December.

Will the Paris Climate Talks
Be Too Little and Too Late?

At the upcoming U.N. climate conference, most of the world’s major nations will pledge to make significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But serious doubts remain as to whether these promised cuts will be nearly enough to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.


MORE IN Interviews

Republican Who Led EPA Urges
Confronting Trump on Climate

by christian schwägerl
William K. Reilly, a Republican and one-time head of the EPA, is dismayed that a climate change skeptic has been named to lead his former agency. But in a Yale e360 interview, he insists environmental progress can be made despite resistance from the Trump administration.

How Costa Rica Is Moving
Toward a Green Economy

by diane toomey
With nearly all its electricity generated from renewables, Costa Rica has now set its sights on decarbonizing the transportation sector. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, green-energy activist Monica Araya explains how her country can wean itself entirely off fossil fuels.

The Legacy of the Man Who
Changed Our View of Nature

by diane toomey
The 19th-century German scientist Alexander von Humboldt popularized the concept that the natural world is interconnected. In a Yale e360 interview, biographer Andrea Wulf explains how Humboldt’s vision helped create modern environmentalism.

From Obama’s Top Scientist,
Words of Caution on Climate

by elizabeth kolbert
As President Obama’s chief science adviser, John Holdren has been instrumental in developing climate policy. In an interview with Yale e360, Holdren talks about the urgency of the climate challenge and why he hopes the next administration will not abandon efforts to address it.

An Unusually Warm Arctic Year:
Sign of Future Climate Turmoil?

by fen montaigne
This year will almost certainly go down as the warmest on record in the Arctic, with autumn temperatures soaring 36 degrees F above normal. In a Yale e360 interview, climatologist Jennifer Francis explains why a swiftly warming Arctic may have profound effects on global weather.

Are Trees Sentient Beings?
Certainly, Says German Forester

by richard schiffman
In his bestselling book, The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben argues that to save the world’s forests we must first recognize that trees are “wonderful beings” with innate adaptability, intelligence, and the capacity to communicate with — and heal — other trees.

At Standing Rock, A Battle
Over Fossil Fuels and Land

by katherine bagley
The Native American-led protest against the Dakota Access pipeline has gained global attention. In an e360 interview, indigenous expert Kyle Powys Whyte talks about the history of fossil fuel production on tribal lands and the role native groups are playing in fighting climate change.

The Moth Snowstorm: Finding
True Value in Nature’s Riches

by roger cohn
Journalist Michael McCarthy has chronicled the loss of wildlife in his native Britain and globally. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about why he believes a new defense of the natural world is needed – one based on the joy and spiritual connection it provides for humans.

What’s Killing Native Birds in
The Mountain Forests of Kauai?

by diane toomey
Biologist Eben Paxton is sounding the alarm about the catastrophic collapse of native bird populations on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. His group's research has uncovered the culprit: disease-carrying mosquitoes that have invaded the birds' mountain habitat.

Exploring How and Why
Trees ‘Talk’ to Each Other

by diane toomey
Ecologist Suzanne Simard has shown how trees use a network of soil fungi to communicate their needs and aid neighboring plants. Now she’s warning that threats like clear-cutting and climate change could disrupt these critical networks.

e360 digest
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies


Donate to Yale Environment 360
Yale Environment 360 Newsletter



About e360
Submission Guidelines

E360 en Español

Universia partnership
Yale Environment 360 articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia, the online educational network.
Visit the site.


e360 Digest
Video Reports


Business & Innovation
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology


Antarctica and the Arctic
Central & South America
Middle East
North America

e360 VIDEO

A look at how acidifying oceans could threaten the Dungeness crab, one of the most valuable fisheries on the U.S. West Coast.
Watch the video.


The latest
from Yale
Environment 360
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile.


An aerial view of why Europe’s per capita carbon emissions are less than 50 percent of those in the U.S.
View the photos.

e360 VIDEO

An indigenous tribe’s deadly fight to save its ancestral land in the Amazon rainforest from logging.
Learn more.

e360 VIDEO

Food waste
An e360 video series looks at the staggering amount of food wasted in the U.S. – a problem with major human and environmental costs.
Watch the video.

e360 VIDEO

Choco rainforest Cacao
Residents of the Chocó Rainforest in Ecuador are choosing to plant cacao over logging in an effort to slow deforestation.
Watch the video.

e360 VIDEO

Tribal people and ranchers join together to stop a project that would haul coal across their Montana land.
Watch the video.