DETROIT – Nissan President and CEO Carlos Ghosn made news yesterday at the North American International Auto Show with predictions of self-driving cars by 2020 and comments on revving up the EV market. Pure zero-emission vehicles are still something the CEO is bullish on, despite some growing commentary that electric vehicles are over due to lack of infrastructure, reliability and cost.
Mr. Ghosn spoke further with the Global Media Center on the issue of the yen, Japan relations with China and the year ahead.
Q1: What do you see as Nissan's biggest opportunities in 2013?
CEO Ghosn: We have a lot of opportunity in 2013. I would say we have to resume a very strong growth. Obviously we had in 2012 a reasonable growth. Unfortunately it should have been much stronger than what we have seen. But as you know we had some events that really were headwinds in front of us - the relationship between China and Japan being the biggest one, where our sales in China were handicapped by it.
But in 2013 resuming growth in China, developing our markets in Russia (particularly with the latest investment we have done with avtoVAZ), pushing also our sales in India, the new plant in Brazil continuing to develop. So I'd say 2013 should be a year where significant growth should continue to be executed.
Q2: Two headwinds for Nissan have been the strong yen and China, but there are signs of recovery in each area. How do you assess prospects?
CEO Ghosn: Well I think yes, there are some good winds in 2013 following these two obstacles. The yen is giving some signs of little-by-little moving into more neutral territory. Obviously 88 (yen) to the dollar is better than 78 yen to the dollar, but frankly I consider that unless we reach a 100 yen to the dollar ratio, we will not be in neutral territory.
In China, yes the situation is getting better but we would like frankly a fundamental resolution of this problem. China is the second largest economy in the world. Japan is the third largest economy in the world. We cannot be in a situation where any incident between the two countries can put us back in the situation that we have known in September and October. Yes, it is a little bit better, but frankly what we are hoping for, and lobbying for also, is putting the past behind the two countries and really making a kind of alliance between the two countries where the economic relationship will take the center stage to the political relationship.
Q3: With the 2013 Nissan LEAF unveiled, which looks to extend range and enhance product feature availability, how will this impact EV sales?
CEO Ghosn: Look, I think everything we are doing is positive for EV sales, but frankly it was predicted because we never had the strategy by which we will assemble the LEAF and assemble the batteries in Japan and ship them all over the world. We knew that we would need to localize the product in order to facilitate the expansion, and it is taking place.
Building cars in the United States is more efficient and less costly than building cars and shipping cars from Japan. So that is one of the reasons for which we cut the price for the consumer because by making the battery in Tennessee and assembling the car in Tennessee and doing the motor also in the United States it helped us to reduce the price of the car and make the consumer benefit from it. The consumers are saying it is too expensive so we need to respond to these concerns in order to facilitate expansion of the car. The LEAF in 2012, we have an expansion of our car by 22 percent globally. We sold 22 percent more LEAFs in 2012 than in 2011. In the United States it was marginally up one percent.
In 2013 the expansion is going to be much more significant both in the United States and globally. Why? Because we are responding to consumers' concerns. You know consumers are saying it is too expensive. We're cutting the price. Consumers saying you know where do I charge my car. We are lobbying for cities and states to develop the charging infrastructure not only in the United States but globally. Consumers are worried about the autonomy. We are giving more reliable information about the autonomy. We're going to a device allowing it to charge in four hours. This is a developing, Kaizen approach.
This technology is a fundamental technology for our industry. We have taken the leadership. We just want to make sure that we are putting it mainstream.
Q4. This year marks the 80th anniversary for Nissan Motor, and in that time the company has been able to survive and even grow in challenging economic times. What obstacles are there left to climb?
CEO Ghosn: We have many things to achieve. I am very glad that we will be celebrating our 80th anniversary in good shape. This company as you know in 1999 came in a near death experience but since then the transformation has been spectacular thanks to the tens of thousands of employees who have engaged into the revival of Nissan and done what Nissan is today. Are we done? Certainly not, we have a lot of potential for growth.
We have a lot of potential to make the company much stronger. We have a lot of potential to strengthen the brand, to make the brand much more remarkable. I'm talking not only about Nissan brand. I'm talking also about Infiniti brand, also we are going to bring back Datsun. But now we are doing it without handicap, we have no more handicap. We have reestablished the fundamentals of the company and the fundamentals of the company are very good.
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