Those without selective memories may recall – what was it? – oh yes, the Nissan Leaf, which arrives in the US market back in 2010 with similar fanfare. But amid the hubbub generated by the Bolt, unveiled at CES and trotted out again during the North American International Auto Show, perhaps GM's executives can't be blamed for omitting this homely electric predecessor.
The Leaf has fallen on hard times. It saw sales decline 43 percent in 2015, even as the auto industry enjoyed record-breaking volume. It loses resale value faster than any car on the market. At roughly the same $30,000 price tag, its electric range is about half that of its new competition from Chevy. As cheap gas prices drive down interest in electric cars in America, would Nissan consider giving up on this once-groundbreaking car? Not a chance.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says a new Leaf is coming in December, and he remains bullish on the future of electric vehicles in the US and beyond.
"Look at Detroit. A lot of carmakers, if not hostile, were at least neutral or skeptical, and they're all coming with electric cars." - Carlos Ghosn
"Obviously the Leaf will go through a lot of transformation," he said while speaking in Detroit earlier this week. "A new Leaf is coming. We didn't take leadership of electric vehicles lightly, and we'll continue fighting for it. We'll make an announcement just before the cars come, and not a long time before. You'll see us coming with new products, technology and enhancements."
He didn't delve into specifics, but the Leaf 's approximate 100-mile range would need to double to match the Bolt's 200-mile reach on a single charge.
Because of zero-emissions targets and regulatory requirements, Ghosn said he thinks the long-term health of the electric-vehicle market is strong even if gas prices and consumer interest remain low in the short term. Eschewing prevailing wisdom that consumers need to drive the change, he said the industry isn't driven by what consumers want; it's driven by the direction set by companies and regulators. He noted it was largely policy, not consumer demand, that sprung interest in diesel cars in Europe.
"I can bet you'll see a major shift toward electric cars," Ghosn said. "Look at Detroit. A lot of carmakers, if not hostile, were at least neutral or skeptical, and they're all coming with electric cars and saying they'll invest in them. It's not an easy shift, but I don't see how we can skip this one."
Increasing range and decreasing costs will entice more consumers. But Ghosn warned that range anxiety won't be the key factor that boosts overall electric sales, which currently stand at less than 1 percent of the market. He urged more investment in infrastructure. He said charging stations need to be as commonplace as gas stations, and that he foresees technology that allows motorists to charge their batteries in as little as 10 minutes there.
"The anxiety is going to be eliminated only when we have a charging structure that is widespread and visible," he said. "You go through many cars in your life. I never ask myself, 'What is the range of your car?' Why would you when you have gasoline stations all over the place. I know I could stop at any moment and charge my car. ... So this is going to be the real and final answer."