This is of course, a reference to a famous Harry Potter quote…
Just like his flagship Nissan Leaf, Carlos Ghosn’s very vocal and visible presence in EV world was notable, but seemed to be no match, in terms of showmanship, to Tesla’s Elon Musk…
...until, on December 29 after spending a year in arrest and house arrest, Carlos managed to smuggle himself, tucked inside a musical-instrument box, through Japanese airport security (possibly with the help of American mercenaries), and flew to his birth country, Lebanon, which has no extradition agreement with Japan.
Your turn, Elon.
Well, much as we love to follow celebrity antics (and I personally don’t), why am I wasting an EV Tuesday diary on this?
Because at Nissan, it seems that EVs were Ghosn and Ghosn was EVs. Once he was removed in late 2018, the company has all but abandoned its EV leadership role among major automakers. Worse, it’s gone backwards.
A little bit of supporting information below the fold. Otherwise, This will be an uncharacteristically short diary (well, one can always hope).
(btw, This is #RbPi #19).
#RbPi (#RESIST-by-Plugging-in) diaries expand awareness that:
- When the government is run by oil interests and global-heating deniers, switching to an electric vehicle (EV*) becomes a direct, effective act of #Resistance.
- On the merits, EVs are viable and increasingly attractive option.
Help your community move ahead in the inevitable path to electrification of public and private transportation, sooner rather than later. #Resist.
Action Resource Table
Disclaimer: I don’t know whether Ghosn did steal money from his companies, and I have no opinion on the matter. This is about the impact of his removal upon Nissan’s electric vehicle positioning and output.
Doing new technology is hard. Replacing an incumbent technology by a new one is even harder. Tesla and Renault-Nissan have each taken on this task with very different strategies — both of them valid *and* necessary.
The validity and necessity of a disruptive EV company like Tesla (not in terms of its internal politics or its CEO’s antics, of course) needs no explanation, I think.
But many EV enthusiasts often miss the point that we must also have the Renault-Nissans. Destroying the world’s entire automotive manufacturing capacity and replacing it by upstarts is too wasteful, too socially-economically disruptive, and also too slow. Most of a vehicle’s hardware is not very different between ICE and EV, so given the leadership and political will, a legacy automaker can convert huge capacities to the electric route fairly quickly.
Under Ghosn, Renault-Nissan took the low-cost route for doing this: developing novel, legit, but relatively inexpensive BEVs, constrained by what’s currently affordable to Western middle classes. Just like Tesla, they’ve hit stumbling blocks, and experienced damaging delays in rollouts and ramp-ups. Just like Tesla, they have generally overcome them, warts and all.
But unlike Tesla which finally found its Silver Bullet into the automotive major leagues when the Model 3 ramp panned out in mid-2018, Nissan Leaf’s less-noticed, but rather promising trajectory got derailed like a plane hit by a missile, the moment Ghosn was removed. Here, see for yourselves:
Every single year in which there was a launch or upgrade, sales went up. Except in 2019. Ghosn was removed late November 2018. The 2019 drop is particularly conspicuous after the sharp rise in 2018.
The conventional EV wisdom explains the sales disappointment of 2019, the year the Leaf finally joined the 200-mile-range club, by saying the product is subpar and competition has increased. These facts might be correct in the narrow sense, but it’s the wrong explanation. It fails to explain how an even weaker Leaf product, the 150-mile version, did so well in the year before. In 2019 Nissan continued to offer all trims of the 150-mile version at attractive prices, as well as the 215-mile version with all-trim perks like faster quick-charging and a free portable dual-voltage charger. Why on Earth would they do worse with both 150-mile and 215-mile on offer?
Meanwhile, two other BEVs with inferior specs at the economy end of the market had a decent 2019 despite being on their last legs before a major upgrade (Renault ZOE, ~170 miles, +15% sales) or complete phaseout (VW eGolf, ~125 miles, +50% sales). Note that both make most of their sales in Europe, where Model 3 made a huge, record-shattering splash in 2019. This splash did not drown these economy BEVs, and it surely shouldn’t have drowned the Leaf, a stronger economy/midmarket product with larger manufacturing capacity.
No, this is the No-Carlos effect. I’ve heard from trusted insiders that at least in the US, production volumes are dried up and not pushed. The lack of EV leadership is felt. There are far less discounts offered despite falling sales. And to add insult to injury, Ghosn-less Nissan joined most other legacy automakers supporting *45’s Environment Destruction Agency in its lawsuit against California.
On the glass-partly-full side, Carlos’ other ex-company, Renault, seems to be pushing EVs just fine, with the ZOE increasing volumes and coming out with a >200-mile version, and new larger vans and trucks. So there’s more political will in the French automaker (Japan’s political and corporate leadership is notorious for being more EV-hostile, and for preference towards fuel-cell cars). And VW seems to be serious about EVs now, vying with the Koreans as the new leaders among legacy automakers, in case Nissan continues to slide on its EV commitment, or even breaks up with Renault.
Bottom line: EV manufacturing and marketing base must expand beyond reliance upon a couple of individual heroes; and this also includes Musk. Tesla, too, must grow beyond his huge celebrity shadow sooner or later.