Detroit 2013: An Interview With Carlos Ghosn

Monday at the North American International Auto Show, Nissan announced that it has chopped the price of its electric Leaf by some $6000, or 18 percent, for the 2013 model year. The car’s base price is now $28,800, plus destination, for the new S trim level. This was partially made possible by fact that the car is now being built at Nissan’s factory in Smynra, Tennessee, which helps hedge against currency fluctuations.

We hung out in a stale room in the bowels of Cobo Hall Monday afternoon to listen to what Nissan president and CEO Carlos Ghosn had to say about a variety of things.

On whether price cuts will be enough to kick-start the EV market for this year and beyond:

Absolutely no question on the fact that zero emissions are here to stay. … I don’t want to give you the impression that the only thing we’re correcting is the price. We are working on the cost of all the components, but you’re going to see the design of the model year 2013 has been changed … due to feedback of a lot of customers. We have a car which is more and more reliable. On top of this, we continue to lobby strongly for the development of the charging [infrastructure], because we think that this is one of the main reasons for which today we have a handicap into the development of the sales–making sure that the cities and states and countries are putting the right investments for this. Frankly, it’s a long-term battle. [Many countries are are making bold moves] to support zero-emission technology. And we have everything ready: the cars are ready, the technology is ready, we’re cutting the cost, we’re making the car much more reliable, much more customer friendly.


On whether ten percent of Nissan sales in markets friendly to electric vehicles will be EV by 2020:

The sales of electric cars will not be linear. When you see infrastructure being installed in countries, you may have a very quick ramp-up. That we’re cutting the cost of product and we are localizing the product …is going to help us a lot.


On the future of autonomous cars:

“Without a doubt [they are] part of the future. We are working very heavily on this technology, and I can tell you that you should be able to see these kind of cars on the market by the year 2020. This is not Star Wars technology. This technology is becoming more and more reliable. There is a lot of marketing interest in it. I think within the next eight or nine years, at least in limited regions where the mapping will be ready, we’ll have the capability to have these cars on the market. We’re working on it and hope that we’ll be the first car manufacturer to put these kind of cars into market.


On whether he thinks autonomous cars will ever operate without humans inside:

There’s very little probability that we’re going to see cars without anybody in them … taking into consideration the liability and the environment.


On Nissan’s market share in the United States, which was 7.9 percent last year, a decrease from 8.2 percent in 2011:

The first milestone [for the United States market share] is ten percent. We don’t think we need to add too many products in order to be able to reach ten percent market share. But obviously there is more work to be done in terms of sales satisfaction, in terms of customer satisfaction. There’s a lot of work to be done in terms also of cost competitiveness… in terms of enhancing the brand. 2013 should be another year of offensive for the company. Globally the offensive and the growth of Nissan should continue.


On the previously announced Power 88 plan for 2016:

88 stands for eight percent global market share, eight percent operating profit. Well, today, we are more at power 66. So we still have to move from Power 66 to Power 88, but we have the strategies, the product, the technologies, and the people in order to do that.


On the global recession as it pertains to the auto industry:

In the U.S., [the recession] was very violent and very deep at the beginning and very good, very quick recovery after. By the way, the recovery is not complete. [In] Europe: milder in the decline, slower into the recovery.