No cur­rent in­ter­est

Herald Sun - Motoring - - NEWS - RICHARD BLACK­BURN­

THE world’s largest maker of elec­tric cars ad­mits there’s no gen­uine de­mand for them.

Car­los Ghosn (pic­tured), chair­man of both the Re­naultNis­san al­liance and Mit­subishi, says without fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives, zero-emis­sion ve­hi­cles sim­ply don’t make it onto the av­er­age buyer’s shop­ping list.

“Elec­tric car sales are not driven by con­sumer de­mand. Con­sumer de­mand is very lim­ited for elec­tric cars. They are driven by emis­sions reg­u­la­tions and by mainly state and (fed­eral) in­cen­tives,” he says.

Nis­san’s Leaf, which has found more than 250,000 buy­ers world­wide since its launch in 2010, has man­aged roughly 630 sales in Aus­tralia since 2012.

The Leaf has been with­drawn from sale lo­cally and Nis­san hasn’t sold one for al­most 12 months. It in­sists it will re­launch the car when a new model ar­rives next year. Ghosn says the lack of lo­cal in­ter­est in Leaf means that Aus­tralia is more likely to get fully au­tonomous cars be­fore the wide­spread adop­tion of EVs.

“It is very dif­fi­cult to make an elec­tric car an at­trac­tive buy without a govern­ment sub­sidy to the con­sumer.

“I don’t think to­day there is any­thing that would lead us to be­lieve that Aus­tralia is go­ing to see soon elec­tric cars,” he says.

Point­edly re­fer­ring to the Aus­tralian govern­ment’s lack of in­cen­tives for al­ter­na­tive fuel ve­hi­cles, Ghosn says China, the US, France, Ja­pan, Bri­tain and Ger­many all have pub­lic poli­cies that help mak­ers over­come the lack of scale that hand­i­caps elec­tric cars.

“The sub­si­dies are im­por­tant to jump-start the tech­nol­ogy. When you jump-start the sales and you get the scale you need, then you can be on your own.”

Ghosn is more bullish about the lo­cal avail­abil­ity of au­tonomous cars.

“Five years down the road, most of the cars on the mar­ket will have some kind of au­ton­omy and some kind of con­nec­tiv­ity and the pre­mium mar­ket is go­ing to be to­tally au­tonomous and to­tally con­nected,” he says.

He pre­dicts cars, es­pe­cially at the pre­mium end, will al­low driv­ers to re­gain hours now lost in the daily com­mute. “The car will be­come a kind of mo­bile space where you can work, you can rest, you can re­lax, you can see a movie, you can video con­fer­ence etc while you’re be­ing driven,” he says.

And he says au­toma­tion is likely to bring a re­duc­tion in the road toll.

“Au­tonomous cars are safer. Ninety per cent of the car ac­ci­dents in the world are due to hu­man er­ror.

“A com­puter re­spects all the speed lim­its, stops at the red lights, doesn’t sleep, doesn’t get drunk, doesn’t lose at­ten­tion.”

He be­lieves there is still a big jump to com­pletely driver­less cars, which will mainly have com­mer­cial uses for couri­ers and ride-pro­vid­ing com­pa­nies such as Uber, en­abling them to save money on staffing.

“This will take more time to come, not only be­cause of the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges but also be­cause of the reg­u­la­tors,” Ghosn says.

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