Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has big plans for his company. After unveiling ambitious expansion plans involving 60 new vehicles, including several new model-launches (See: Nissan to expand in India) in India as well as building one of the cheapest cars in the world (See: Bajaj Auto, Renault-Nissan alliance to build ultra-low cost cars at Chakan plant) , he has now announced plans to mass-produce zero-emission electric vehicles by the end of this decade.
Plans include an electric vehicle in the US and Japanese market by 2010, and a global lineup of such products by 2012. ''This will not be a Star Wars prototype,'' Ghosn said, ''It will be a car for sale.''
This was made official yesterday, and marks a sea change from his earlier stance when, in a 2005 speech to the National Automobile Dealers Association, he called gasoline-electric hybrids ''niche products'' useful only to meet strict fuel-economy and emission standards in states like California.
Now he intends to go further and develop vehicles that do not have any emissions at all, unlike existing hybrids that merely cut down on them. His latest commitment will raise the stakes in producing environment-friendly vehicles, as it makes Nissan the first manufacturer to say it will sell mass market, all-electric vehicles worldwide, unlike other automakers that have hybrids under production and electric cars under development.
These include Mitsubishi Motors and Fuji Heavy Industries who are testing versions of electric cars, and General Motors (GM) and Toyota, who are working on battery-powered vehicles that have small gasoline engines for recharging.
GM plans to start producing the Chevrolet Volt in 2010, while Toyota expects to offer a similar, so-called ''plug-in'' hybrid around the same time. Toyota and Honda already have the bestselling Prius and Civic hybrids on the roads. However, they are still net polluters of the environment, unlike an electric vehicle that has no emissions, and consequently, no tailpipe.
Nissan has upped the ante considerably in the race to mass-produce non-polluting vehicles by committing to a specific product in a specific market within a specific timeframe. Moreover, Ghosn insists that this decision was because of high gasoline prices and environmental concerns, not just because of the need to meet stricter fuel-economy standards.
''What we are seeing is that the shifts coming from the markets are more powerful than what regulators are doing,'' he said.
Ghosn said Nissan envisioned a broad range of electric vehicles, starting with small cars, and adding, ''It's not only about a small city car or a small minivan. It can also be about a small commercial vehicle and a small crossover.'' With this large repertoire, it is no wonder that he expects to achieve ''zero-emission-vehicle leadership.''
Also, he spoke about corporate responsibility towards the environment, especially in the light of expanding car markets in developing nations. He said, ''The question is how we participate in the growth of emerging markets, while doing it in a way that is not in contradiction with the fact that a lot of people are sensitive to the emission levels and the preservation of the planet,'' adding, ''We must have zero-emission vehicles. Nothing else will prevent the world from exploding.''