Nissan has hit back at plans by Volkswagen to become the electric vehicle market leader by 2018, while reaffirming its own aim to increase range to 200km on Leaf and introduce four new electric vehicles to market within two years.
Speaking at the Frankfurt motor show, Nissan executive vice president Andy Palmer started by recalling history.
“What did our friends at VW call it [growth of electric cars]? ‘Ludicrous’ I think the word was used in 2010. They’ve proven our argument correct, except we’ve got a four-year start on them.
“We’ve got cars in the market, we’ve gone through all the teething pains of launching in hot countries, cold countries … We’ve got 75,000 cars out there connected to the internet, it’s a huge advantage.
“And they don’t have one single car yet…”
About Volkswagen's bold claim to become the number one electric vehicle manufacturer within five years, Palmer responded “yeah but we say that too, don’t we? One of us is going to be right…”
“It’s gone a long way in two-and-a-half years,” he says, both in terms of the number of electric vehicle offerings in the pipeline from manufacturers and also the changed attitudes.
“From people saying this is failed technology, it’ll never take off, every month your sales have failed.
"It’s not a question anymore, the question is how much of your portfolio is going to be EV, when’s the next one coming, to the ones [manufacturers] that haven’t got the technology, ‘why don’t you have the technology?’ so I think we’re in a very good space.”
Asked whether Palmer (above) feels threatened by dedicated-EV upstart Tesla, he responded with “I welcome them.”
“Them among any other players have made EVs cool. The fact that some people have gone up there, in a space we don’t occupy [luxury segment], and basically created a halo around a brand that is pure-EV.
“I think it’s complimentary. And we both enjoy now the ability to sell credits to other guys that didn’t move with us. So respect to Elon [Musk – founder].”
Palmer also maintained the brand’s commitment to introducing four new dedicated electric vehicles in the next two years, including a new Leaf, e-NV200 taxi (below), Infiniti LE and “in the mid-term” a city car to rival the Chevrolet Spark EV that will share hardware with the Renault Zoe.
The challenge now, Palmer tells, is to increase battery capacity without adding more size and weight. He confirmed the Nissan Leaf will soon get another upgrade increasing its range to at least 200km to match the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, and exceed the all-electric version of the BMW i3, both of which were shown at the Frankfurt motor show.
Battery technology is moving “much faster than I ever believed,” according to Palmer. “We imagined a four year cycle for a battery, then we were on a two year cycle, now we’re modifying the battery every year.
“At some point in the future we can be priced equal to a gasoline competitor without the need for incentives.”
The executive vice president therefore maintains Nissan has no regrets in investing heavily into electric cars, rather than providing more hybrids for the market.
“If you want to be a ‘me too’ – there’s plenty of ‘me toos’ out there actually there’s another Japanese car manufacturer they did a car called the Insight, remember that? No, exactly – so it’s easy to be ‘me too’ it’s much more difficult to be brave and carve out your own space.
“I say Nissan to you guys you’re probably going to say GT-R or Leaf. I say Toyota, you’re probably going to say Prius. Volkswagen? Might say diesel engines.
“Two years from now you say Nissan, you’re going to say connected, electric, autonomous. Because that’s our road map. You’ll be getting the opportunity in two years to experience that the development is real, that we’ll be able to demonstrate it in different locations.
“Electric and cars is inevitable as tax and death".