Ghosn sees big automaker push to go electric

Image: Carlos Ghosn
Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan, foresees a big push by automakers to bring pure-electric vehicles to market.Fred Prouser / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co., said Wednesday he foresees a big push by automakers to bring pure-electric vehicles to market, predicting that 10 percent of all vehicles globally will be electric by 2020.

“The reality today is there are zero electric cars on the market,” Ghosn said. “There is a trend toward electric cars, no doubt about it. ... In many countries, people want to make themselves more independent from oil, and second, want to be able to have a more environmentally friendly product.”

Ghosn made the remarks at a round-table interview with reporters at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday. The show opens to the public Friday.

Ghosn said Nissan is planning to launch an electric car in the United States by 2010, making it the latest automaker to set such timeline. General Motors Corp. said it will launch its Chevrolet Volt gas-electric vehicle the same year, and Chrysler LLC plans to begin selling an electric vehicle by then, as well.

Nissan, Japan’s No. 3 automaker, plans to mass-market electric vehicles globally by 2012, Ghosn said. He said there is little doubt automakers see electric vehicles as the future of the auto industry.

“Ten percent of global sales of cars will be electric by 2020 is, in my opinion, a reasonable number,” Ghosn said.

Earlier Wednesday, Ghosn announced a partnership with the state of Oregon and Portland General Electric Co. to promote and develop an electric vehicle charging network. He called on local and national governments to assist the process of bringing electric and other alternative vehicles to market.

“Government has a role to play,” Ghosn said. “Indeed, governments have a history of advancing major projects to serve the broader public good.”

He also acknowledged Nissan-Renault had been in talks to acquire Chrysler, which is running dangerously low on cash and has joined GM and Ford Motor Co. in asking Washington for a federal rescue of the auto industry. Those companies have been making their case for a bailout before Congress this week.

Ghosn suggested that talks with Chrysler fell apart due to lack of enthusiasm from the Detroit automaker. He ruled out any other alliances for Nissan-Renault in the near term due to the financial crisis, adding an alliance among any automakers would require a recovery in the financial markets.

“The likelihood of some companies going bankrupt under this condition is very high,” Ghosn said. “I can tell you that nobody in the industry likes this kind of perspective, because usually when one company goes bankrupt, it messes up the whole industry.”

Ghosn said he favors government assistance to help automakers retool their plants to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles, but said he has “no position” on any other proposals for financial help for automakers.