Despite being closely connected to the electric vehicle pioneers at Nissan, Infiniti is taking the slow road to bringing an EV to market. Last month, the first Infiniti EV – to be based on the LE concept from the 2012 New York Auto Show – was delayed to add better tech. Infiniti president Johan De Nysschen wants to make it perfectly clear that this delay is both intentional and in no way a cancellation.
"There absolutely will be EVs in Infiniti's future" - Johan de Nysschen
Speaking with AutoblogGreen at a media event in Newport Beach, California this week, de Nysschen was blunt: "First and foremost, I simply must state that there absolutely will be EVs in Infiniti's future." The first Infiniti EV was delayed, in part, to give the brand room to grow in all directions. De Nysschen, who took over Infiniti in June of 2012, told us:
As Infiniti gets ready to become a global player, one thing company representatives made clear is that the big goal, a plug-in car, is not at the top of the "To do" list. It's on there, sure, but not what's driving the company in 2013. Plus, as de Nysschen said, when the Infiniti EV arrives, it must have the latest and greatest tech.
We have a massive journey ahead of us. We have to diversify our product portfolio, we have to enter a bunch of new market segments, we have to enter new geographies, we have to invest in new production capacity. And all of these things together amount to a massive investment in the brand. When it comes to EVs, that is another area that would require very huge investments and it is simply, for us, balancing the investment amounts with the short-, medium- and long-term profitability requirements and the role that all these various cars will play as we shape and reposition the brand.
Specifically, he said:
Of course, technology will always be advancing, so an argument that says you need to have the absolute best tech in a new car effectively means that the vehicle will never arrive. De Nysschen said that's not the goal here. "I don't think that we've called for a delay for the car for five years, it is a relatively short delay and we will make a decision on the next step on this car in the next 12 months," he said. What that decision will be is hinted at by one country: China.
People speak of a delay to our EV plans, primarily this has been driven by the reality that we know that there is work being done on the evolution – it's not a breakthrough, it's an evolution – of battery technology which will yield higher performance and new technology will also bring cost advantages. It stands to reason to me that if we are planning a new Infiniti EV, that we should hold on until we can incorporate those improvements into the new product. It would make little sense to start production of the car just as these new technologies emerge.
De Nysschen said Infiniti knows that hybrids are important in the American market and diesels in Europe. "When we cast our eye now to China, this is where we see the likelihood that EVs will play a role. Since we intend to be a player there, that is yet another reason that it is logical that EVs will be a part of our line up in the future." And it's the future that de Nysschen is getting ready for. He sees the EV market evolving this way:
Still, we were curious: will we see the first production Infiniti electric vehicle in the next three years? "I think that would be a logical time frame," he replied.
I think that the EV evolution will probably take place from two opposite poles. On the one end, you will find vehicles that use EV technology at a lower level of technology and a lower performance parameters, but a lower price point. These vehicles will primarily be for commuting. The opposite pole is where you will find the real technological advancements. People are going to embrace the high cost of these innovative new technologies and they are going to offset these high costs and recoup it by wrapping it in a very emotional body, which has intangible value, which customers are willing to pay for. Over time, we are talking 20-25 years, as you progress and you get the cost of the technologies down and you can begin to transfer them to the lower end, you get the convergence. If anybody thinks that EVs are going to dominate the market within the next three years, that's wrong. It will take many years before they take a leading role and replace the internal combustion engine as the primary source of power.