Nissan’s former chairman calls EV plan too timid

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TOKYO — Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, the onetime electric vehicle pioneer who dove into the technology with overly optimistic expectations a decade ago, says now is finally the time to go all-in on EVs, as he blasts his former company as vision-less in this new era.

Ghosn said newcomers to the industry, including Tesla and entrants from China, have an advantage over legacy players, and he warned that old-guard companies such as Nissan Motor Co. must be faster to stay competitive in the rapidly shifting landscape.

“The speed of the shift is going to determine who’s going to be the winner,” Ghosn said in an online news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, where the ousted auto veteran spoke last week on the release of his recent book in a Japanese-language edition.

Ghosn spoke from his home in Beirut, where he lives as an international fugitive. He was indicted four times in Japan on allegations of financial misconduct and fled the country concealed in an oversized music equipment case two years ago this month.

Ghosn, who maintains his innocence, said today’s electric buzz vindicates his early — perhaps too early — move to popularize EVs by launching the Nissan Leaf hatchback in 2010. Nissan planned to sell hundreds of thousands of EVs over the following years, but demand never materialized.

“When I launched the first mass-market electric car,” Ghosn recalled, “as you know, everybody was laughing at us about, you know, you guys are lost.”

But now, he said, as other automakers join the race and plow hundreds of billions of dollars into EVs, the vibe is different.

“When you see the investments being done, I don’t think it’s too much,” he said.

“The market is moving with the right amount of money at the right speed. We’re going 100 percent electric,” Ghosn said, pointing to the stratospheric market value of Tesla, which eclipsed $1 trillion this year. “The market is telling you we are completely writing off the combustion engine.”

Ghosn added that he does consulting work in electrified mobility from Lebanon.

And he said Chinese entrants especially are betting big on EVs because they are latecomers to the auto industry and need to invest in the latest, greatest technologies to be competitive.

“The Chinese are going to play beautifully with electrification,” he said.

Ghosn’s upbeat outlook came after Nissan unveiled plans to spend nearly $18 billion to electrify about 50 percent of its global volume by 2030. But Ghosn said that pace is too slow.

“They are really in a very bad position in this race,” Ghosn said of Nissan, delivering one of countless potshots during the address. “There is no vision. They don’t know where they’re going. They have no image about this huge technological transformation that is taking place.”

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