It’s not often that you have the opportunity to sit down with the CEO of a $134 billion brand. But such was the case when we met up with Carlos Ghosn, leader supreme of the Nissan Motor Company — currently the world’s 6th largest automaker. As we’ve said earlier, we were asked to be part of the EV Insiders, a panel assembled to promote, shape and spur dialogue about Infiniti’s pioneering LE Concept — a car that aims to be the first high volume luxury electric vehicle. As in fully EV, zero emissions — not hybrid. Thus far it has been a very intriguing endeavor, one we look forward to sharing with you more as the year — and the Infiniti LE Concept itself — matures and evolves from pure concept to production-ready vehicle.

Speaking with Mr. Ghosn was a highlight thus far, not just because he’s a CEO of a global brand but because of the innovation and trailblazing that the Nissan ship he’s navigating is charting. The Lebanese-via-Brazil pioneer has been nicknamed “Le Cost killer” and “Mr. Fix It”, and selected “One of the 50 Most Famous Men in Global Business & Politics”. He’s fluent in at least four languages, and made waves in both the financial and environmental spheres when he invested €4 billion to develop the world’s first lineup of fully electric cars — starting with the Nissan Leaf, which was the subject of the 2011 documentary Revenge of the Electric Car. This is not someone who’s speaking of EVs or zero emission vehicles out of lip service to the government or the “green” market. From sitting with him and hearing his thoughts firsthand, it’s pretty clear that his view of Nissan and Infiniti — and their very future success — hinges on the development and acceptance of electric vehicles in the mainstream market. As he boldly predicted in the key note address at this year’s New York Auto Show, by 2020 he fully expects 10% of all cars sold to be totally electric (not hybrid), and he sees Infiniti’s LE as the forbear of the luxury vehicles that will be leading this segment. Is this prognostication a tad bullish? Who knows — only these next 8 years will tell. Regardless, we applaud their efforts and look forward to sharing more of the LE Concept in the months to come. For now, enjoy our quick chat with Mr. Carlos Ghosn…

Carlos Ghosn:
I think EV is here to stay. It is going to represent an important segment of the auto industry. EV is not some kind of a niche product. It is a technology, a way to live with a car that is going to be from entry level to high luxury. It is going to go everywhere.

We started by addressing the core of the market with the Nissan LEAF but it doesn’t mean that it is the only opportunity we see. We are going to go down [market] and go up [market]. And what you are going to see here is the EV version of Infiniti. We think that people driving luxury products are people particularly interested into the environment. We see it in the LEAF today. The largest majority of people buying the LEAF are highly educated, high income; they come unconditionally to the EV. Most of them come from hybrids. They are being very logical. And we are going to see soon a second group coming to EV of people who are looking for a completely different experience in terms of cars, which by the way match Infiniti very well. They are people having classical cars, they want something different, they want something with excitement, with performance, with hospitality and frankly Infiniti EV matches that very well.

So for us, Infiniti EV is a very logical step. It matches very well with the brand. On top of this, as we are going to be the only one with an EV in the luxury segment — it is going to be another attractive point to Infiniti. It is going to be something that will be qualifying Infiniti vs. the Germans or the other luxury brands.

So, I think the question is not so much about EV but about how much the external design and the internal design will be pleasing to people interested in an electric car and how much they will consider the driving performance corresponding to something that they want. And here we are really pretty comfortable as the driving performance will be great and you will see the design and by the way this is a show car but it is not very far from what you will see on the street. This is not a kind of ‘Star Wars’ show car. It is 85-90% of what will be coming on the road.

Hit the Jump to continue reading Open Dialogue: A Conversation with Carlos Ghosn…

“We are going to target it very strongly particularly to the highly educated people with high income. They are a perfect target for Infiniti and there is no competition…”

Obviously the experience with Nissan LEAF will help a lot the Infiniti EV because we are piling up data, seeing how people use their cars, how much do they charge, when, how do they drive it, how many miles do they do, what problems they may face. All of this data is coming today from 25,000 users of LEAF to date. When the Infiniti EV comes to market we will have a pretty good experience. We will be the car manufacturer most knowledgeable about the EV and how people are using it.

I have no doubt on the fact that this is going to be great for the Infiniti brand because we will be the first luxury brand with a zero-emission car. And you know that the Nissan LEAF has 91% conquest. So people are not coming for Nissan. They are coming to buy the LEAF. Same will happen with Infiniti and Infiniti needs a lot of conquest as it is a brand which is still very small, which needs to grow awareness and have more people coming to it and I think the EV of Infiniti is going to help it grow. We think it is a great opportunity for Infiniti.

In a certain way the person in charge of Infiniti has begged me to give the priority to Infiniti vs. other models. So it was the other way around. We were not kicking the butt of Infiniti saying “How about you take an EV?” They were saying: “We want to be the second model. We want it because we think it is going to help the development of the brand instead of us going and making another electric car as a 4×4 or entry level. We want it as luxury.” And here we are today. In fact, it is going to be the second electric car of the Nissan company.

That’s a little bit the situation, I don’t know if it addresses the question you are discussing.

Ben Poore, Vice President, Infiniti Business Unit:
Yes, it does as one of the things we are discussing is the prestige it can help bring for our brand.

Carlos Ghosn:
It’s going to be the only game in town. You want a zero-emission car you’ll have to go to Infiniti. There is no other choice and frankly when you take a look at all the statistics, young people 30 yrs and younger, 60% of them want an electric car or electric hybrid kind of car. This is generation Y. The generation of the immediate future. 91% of conquest. Highly educated population, high income: $125K+ and I am talking about the LEAF here. So these people would want to have an Infiniti, they are the natural audience to move to Infiniti as the Nissan LEAF is going to start having more people coming to the brand as we start production in the United States, compete everywhere, open electric car for all states, infrastructure is being built. Somebody was commenting today on how they are amazed about how many charging stations have been built in just a year: cities, communities, states. When you read the newspaper you have the impression that there are skeptics everywhere, but not at all. Communities are already acting, they are building the infrastructure, they are making it easy. So, electric cars make a lot of sense. And it is not driven by the top. It is driven by the public. They feel it, no matter whether they don’t want to pay $4/gallon, or because they are environmentalists, or because they want to have zero-emission cars, to drive in the special lane or have free parking, there are a lot of benefits with driving an EV

BP:
Mr. Ghosn, do you see that same dynamic in EV in luxury in other parts of the world in terms of the opportunity.

Carlos Ghosn:
Yes, I don’t think this is limited to the Unites States only. I think that the Infiniti electric car will be something singular to the brand in Europe and even in Japan.

And as I told you, we are going to target it very strongly particularly to the highly educated people with high income. They are a perfect target for Infiniti and there is no competition. You basically have no choice, you have to go to Infiniti as there is practically nothing else.

EV Insider:
How much do you think of Tesla?

Carlos Ghosn:
Tesla is different. I never considered that a small company can be a big player in EV and I’ll tell you why. Because if you have the choice between a big name and… what is a big name? It is a big network; it is making sure that if you live in a big city you have a dealer close by so if something goes wrong you can go there and get it fixed. If you go to a small company what is your network? What is your back-up? What is your next car coming. I think that at the end of the day this is a turf for large car manufacturers no matter what. I am talking about mass marketing. Not about a niche player. I am not talking about selling 1000 EVs a year. Like LEAF [sold] 25,000 the first year, 50,000 the second year and going up from there. We are talking about tens and hundreds of thousands of EVs a year. Frankly, I don’t think people will go to a niche manufacturer. They want the big names because they want the dealer network. Whether I am traveling, visiting, etc. I want to be able to call a dealer nearby. That’s my opinion of why they want to go to the big names.

EV Insider:
What are some of the advantages you have because you already launched the LEAF? What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from launching it that you can either correct or implement in launching the Infiniti EV?

Carlos Ghosn:
First is, we are the only game in town. There is no competition in zero-emissions. We learned a lot of things from Nissan. For example, people want to have more clear information about autonomy, range. The LEAF is showing too much variation and consumers don’t like that. So we are going to give them something a lot more specific in terms of autonomy. Conservative and not a function of the last two days of driving but maybe the last 6 weeks so it gives you much more of stability. So that and a lot of small details we are learning from LEAF that we will use in Infiniti. But in terms of quality and reliability the car has been great. No quality problems or concerns at all. Some of our competitors have some concerns, we have nothing.

This is going to be a big step for the luxury brands because the profile of the people buying electric cars today is a luxury buyer’s profile.

 

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