A lot has happened in the electric-car segment since 2014 when the Nissan Leaf was the world's best-selling BEV. The advent of Tesla's Model S, X and Model 3, along with GM's Bolt EV and development at other OEMs have pushed the Leaf out of the electric-car limelight. EV reputations are all about range today and in that metric Leaf can only muster 172 km (107 mi) between charges with its 30 kW·h battery.
Where does Nissan stand in the electrification race? For an update Automotive Engineering sat down recently with Ponz Pandikithura, Nissan Europe's VP Product Planning. He began our conversation by noting that while Europeans are migrating away from diesels, the Renault-Nissan Alliance is a major diesel manufacturer.
"But we need a transition between there and a lower carbon footprint,” Pandikithura explained. “We have lots of data on how electric vehicles (EVs) work, how to optimize them and most importantly, what customers do and don’t like about them. We have a very good blueprint of how we can move and migrate our portfolio to where it’s more electric, zero emission carbon-free future. What’s not known right now is how soon that time line will be. What’s the bridge?”
Whilst he believes 2022-23 will be “the tipping point” in terms of battery technology that will enable Nissan to produce an EV for the same price as a 1.2-L Qashqai CUV [the U.S. market Rogue Sport], batteries taken in isolation are only part of a much broader, holistic solution to future transport needs. From the customer’s point of view, he predicts in that timeframe that “Total cost of ownership over the lifecycle drops dramatically and perceived value goes up.”
That will be partly achieved by extending the battery's life beyond the vehicle. Nissan is partnering with Eaton for its xStorage program whereby partially depleted batteries with upwards of 70% capacity can be used for domestic purposes. “What if we found a way to plug in your car that gave you back the battery's original efficiency? Or, we do a software flash giving you new features in the car you didn’t originally have," Pandikithura proposed.
By extending the car’s life, the owner remains a customer for a lot longer, perhaps a 10-year ownership cycle. The paradigm will change, he said; it won’t be as transactional as today. But if the ownership model has to change then, will the way in which emissions are calculated on a more realistic and equitable, life cycle analysis also change?
“It’s cradle to grave," he asserted. "It’s the manufacturing process that goes into components, the power that goes into production, our approach is an overall environmental footprint. Do the authorities and other OEMs understand that cradle to grave approach? Yes. [But] do they like it or will they act on it, that’s a different question. We’re a publically quoted company with shareholders and we have to optimize the resources they’ve invested in as best we can."
He said a mandated zero-carbon-footprint market would cause Nissan and the other OEMs to lose money on every car they make, leading to bankruptcy.
"However, our firm belief is that in the long-term future we will get to zero emission cradle-to- grave and the market will reward us.” Just how far away that future is, is a question that remains unanswered.