No current interest
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The Leaf has been withdrawn from sale locally and Nissan hasn’t sold one for almost 12 months.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.