Nissan Europe’s sales and marketing chief has told just-auto that he believes electric vehicles (EVs) represent the future for Nissan and that the vehicle manufacturer that takes the lead in EVs in the next three to four years will likely lead the industry.

Speaking to just-auto at the London Motor Show, Simon Thomas said that now is a very exciting time to be in the industry and that Nissan wants to lead in EVs, though that does not mean neglecting investment in other powertrain technologies.

“Nissan is not pursuing one technology alone. We have fuel cell vehicles on test and in use, electric vehicles on test and in use and hybrids actually on sale now using another manufacturer’s hybrid unit [Toyota's technology on the Altima]. We will have our own hybrid unit by 2010,” he said.

Thomas maintains that vehicle manufacturers should continue to invest in competing powertrain technologies which can be continually improved.

“There is a need to consider the evolution and improvement in efficiencies of gasoline engines and diesel engines, plus hybrids and EVs and hydrogen vehicles because all of these technologies will overlap over a period of time.

“Some manufacturers are betting very heavily on hybrids but hybrids will eventually be superseded by electric vehicles, but there will be an overlap. In twenty years maybe there will be more hydrogen vehicles. There is a manufacturer here today betting everything on fuel cell vehicles but today it costs a million dollars to build one fuel cell vehicle – even if you can get that down to a tenth, it’s still a very expensive car. And there is still the fuelling question.

“Electric vehicles for us take us from our short-term plan of CO2 reduction into a longer-term product. Electric vehicles aren’t just a car, or a city mover solution – for us it’s our future."

Thomas sees a big potential prize ahead as a result of getting the EV investment right and making the right product.

“I think the manufacturer who takes the lead in EVs in the next three to four years is likely to take the lead the industry,” he maintains.

“I think EVs will be that big.”

He also believes that the consumer appetite for low CO2 vehicles is very strong.

“If you bring out a zero emission vehicle that draws its power source from renewable energy, that’s a very compelling argument,” he says.

However, he cautions that EVs need to be economically viable (the reason Nissan is involving governments and utility providers in its plans) and ‘credible’ – which means moving EVs away from the traditional microcar two-seater niche.

“We are going to build a proper five-seater EV to start and a range of vehicles after that, potentially also for commercial use also.”

Thomas also believes that the next five years will see unprecedented change in the automotive industry.

“In five years’ time we will be looking at a very different industry. It won’t be just powertrain – the shape of cars will change, functionality will change and I think the way people buy cars will change.

“In the case of the EV, for example, it means that some of the other components in a car don’t have to be as heavy or mechanical or as fixed. To take steering, you don’t need power steering, fluids and a fixed steering wheel – that makes accommodating both left-hand drive and right-hand drive easier. And lots of other components and technologies can be expanded more quickly than in the traditional ICE driven set-up. The design, the look and feel of cars will change.”

A dialogue with governments is a part of the process of making sure that the infrastructure for EVs is there.

 “Our plans are pretty well progressed. We’ll have a range of electric vehicles and we’ll start mass marketing our EVs in 2011.

“We have already established agreements with Israel and Denmark and there is an MoU with the Portuguese government. We are also talking to other governments, authorities and fleets within Europe.

“We need government support in a number of ways  - we need infrastructure, we need charging stations and points, we need incentives in place to encourage EV acquisition and usage.

“We can’t make this twenty-year investment unless we get assurances from governments that they will partner with us to assist in these areas.

“And of course the energy suppliers are an important part of the project – we want partnerships with renewable energy providers.”

But the way people buy cars may be changed as EVs introduce different buying patterns, Thomas believes.

“If consumers start to lease the battery, then they may start to think, why not lease the car?

“I think the advent of the electric vehicle and the way in which it draws its power could just change the way people think about car ownership and purchasing a car.”

Dave Leggett

 

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SIMON THOMAS - BIOG

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES & MARKETING Nissan Europe and WESTERN EUROPE SALES OPERATIONS, since April 2008

Based in Rolle,  reports to Hidetoshi IMAZU, Executive Vice President.

Date of birth : 28 May 1960, Powys, Wales

Career history 

2007    Vice President of Sales Operations, Nissan Europe
   
2003 Vice President for Sales and Marketing for both the Nissan and Infiniti brands in Nissan Canada
   
Oct. 2000 Marketing Director of Nissan Motor (GB) Ltd, where he had overall responsibilityfor all product marketing, research, CRM, and advertising across the Nissanrange
   
Jan.2000 General Manager of Dealer Operations, responsible for dealer network Performance and all field force support
   
1997 General Manager Southern Region Operations
   
1994 Marketing Planning Manager, Nissan Motor GB Ltd
   
1992 Assistant Regional Manager, Nissan Motor GB Ltd
   
1991 Area Sales Manager for the North East, Nissan
   
1985 Austin Rover Group (to become later Rover Cars), spending 7 years working in a variety of roles such as Field Service Engineer, Area Sales Manager, Area Fleet Manager, Regional Contract Hire & Rental Manager, Senior Area Business Manager

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