January 21, 2017 2:30 am JST
My Personal History

Carlos Ghosn (20) Going electric and disproving the doubters

The LEAF validated Nissan's decision to skip hybrids and focus on electrics

Skeptics doubted Carlos Ghosn's decision to develop an electric car, but Nissan's LEAF has proved a success.

As I wrote previously, even in the midst of the financial crisis, it was critical to not pull back on the investments that were positioning us for the future. At the top of that list was the development of electric vehicles.

Many people have said that we made a big bet on electric vehicles, but in reality, it was the result of research and deep analysis. There were a few forces accelerating our development of electric vehicle technology. For one, prices of crude oil were skyrocketing, and electric vehicles would allow us to move away from a dependence on oil. There was also growing concern about the environment, and an industry responsibility to reduce carbon emissions. Meanwhile, environmental regulations in the U.S. and Europe were becoming ever-stricter; all reasons to move away from fossil fuels and toward zero-emissions power.

Despite this overwhelming evidence, when we announced our plans to build an electric vehicle in 2008, we were met with skepticism. Some critics said that we were focusing on electric vehicles because we lacked hybrid-vehicle technology, but that was incorrect. We made a strategic decision to focus on electric vehicles. Other companies had tried to do so but failed due to a lack of battery technology. Nissan Motor, on the other hand, had succeeded in developing electric vehicle batteries that could provide the same performance as a gasoline-powered car. We had the technology to build an all-electric vehicle; why wouldn't we leapfrog over hybrids?

In December 2010, we introduced the world's first mass-produced, affordable electric car, the LEAF. The race for a zero-emission car had begun. Those same automakers who doubted us seven years ago are now following in our footsteps. Because of tougher environmental regulations, no auto company can compete without an electric car.

This increase in competition is good because it makes the industry stronger. But other companies still have a ways to go to catch up to us.

This shift in attitude reminds me of one of my favorite books, "The Alchemist," written by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. When it first came out, the book only sold one copy in the first month. His editors told him to stop trying to sell it, but he fought them for a year. Today the book is one of the best-selling in history, and it has set a Guinness World Record as the most-translated work by a living author. I reread it last fall and was reminded that sometimes you need to ignore the critics and go forward. I'm glad we did. Today, the Renault-Nissan Alliance accounts for more than half of all electric vehicles sold worldwide, and we are committed to maintaining this advantage into the future.

Carlos Ghosn is chairman and CEO of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

Read more installments of My Personal History: Carlos Ghosn

See recent articles on the auto industry at Auto Industry Upheaval

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