Nissan Exec Recalls A Time When Electric Cars Were “Doomed To Fail”

6 months ago by Eric Loveday 60

Nissan LEAF

Nissan LEAF

During a recent ride & drive event of the new Ranult ZOE in Barcelona, Spain, Nissan Europe Chairman Paul Willcox took the opportunity to discusss the automakers long involvement with electric cars and to call out those other automakers who didnt follow suit in the early days.

Wilcox stated:

“Seven or eight years ago I attended a conference in the UK and an engineer from a very well-known German group was pouring a huge amount of scorn on electrification.

Nissan LEAF

Nissan LEAF

“[He was] basically saying, ‘Consumers don’t want it. Consumers don’t need it. The technology has no durability and therefore it’s doomed to fail.”

That same automaker today is diving deep into electric cars after a diesel scandal forced its hand. Add to that this statement by the unnamed automaker, who claims its first long-range, affordable electric car “lays the foundation to become global market leader in electric mobility.” Hmm…

Ten years late to the party and way behind those early pioneers. Wilcox added:

 “Now at motor shows everyone’s got a concept car with a blue lead coming out of it or they’re announcing 100 electric vehicles will be coming in the next three years or something like that.”

“So the world has changed.”

Well, yes. It’s changed for the non-supporters, but the word is still very much the same for the early pioneers such as Renault-Nissan and Tesla.

Source: Automotive News

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60 responses to "Nissan Exec Recalls A Time When Electric Cars Were “Doomed To Fail”"

  1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    Well, there was a time when EVs were doomed to fail. Circa 2000, when GM test marketed the GM EV1, the battery tech just wasn’t there, and that car was indeed doomed to fail, despite the propaganda film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” claiming otherwise.

    And in fact, the car which actually did kick off the modern EV revolution, the Tesla Roadster, actually didn’t make any overall profit for Tesla Motors.

    So one could reasonably argue that the time in which EVs could be sold profitably didn’t arrive until late 2010, with the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt.

    1. vdiv says:

      Nonsense. Vehicles with the same Ni-MH battery technology such as the S10 and the Rav4 EV that survived the slaughter are still on the road today.

      1. jiminonjack says:

        Ev’s have proved themselves viable and will only get better as new battery breakthroughs make their way into the EV car markets & ICE Cars will then Become “HISTORECTOMY” This can Never happen Too Soon !!

      2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        The RAV4 EV was labeled a “test market car”, but I strongly suspect that in reality it was a California compliance car. But either way, it was sold at a price below cost, and thus was of course “doomed to fail”.

        I know very little about the S10 EV; was that sold at a profit, or sold below cost?

        1. Nick says:

          Using Hollywood Accounting, any vehicle you want to show as selling “at a loss” will be.

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            I’m talking about real-world accounting, not “creative” accounting.

            This ain’t rocket science. Batteries were too expensive, too large, and too short-lived to make a practical production EV, until about the time that Tesla started making the Roadster. You don’t need a degree in accounting or engineering to see that; the facts are pretty clear and well documented. The GM EV1 certainly was not a practical production EV.

            Anyone who claims otherwise needs a reality check.

            1. Willie says:

              As you probably know, the NiMH battery in the EV1 and a few other period EVs was very workable and long lived in an EV. Giving ~100 miles of range and ~100k miles of life. As documented in WKTEC, it was consciously and and maliciously killed by GM and Chevron thereby truncating a very promising development path. Essentially setting back EV development by ten years until the arrival of lithium batteries. NiMH have proven to be at least as reliable as Li though lacking some energy density.

              1. The truth of your statement is proven by the Gen 1 RAV4s that are still on the road today – with original battery pack.

                Our upcoming print edition has a profile of a family that purchased and used several of them.

              2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

                I have a friend who owns a circa 2000 Honda insight, a (non-plug-in) HEV similar to an early Prius. He drives his car out of town frequently (so more than the normal ~14,000 miles per year for an American driver), and has had to replace his NiMH pack twice, even though it’s not a BEV.

                So the claims here for good longevity in NiMH packs used in BEVs seem, at best, overly optimistic. Anecdotal evidence is highly unreliable, because any individual person might own more than one car, so may not drive any given EV much distance in a year.

                Can you link to any survey showing how much (or little) deterioration there has been in RAV4 EV range over time? I’d love to see some actual data on this subject. (And as they say: “The plural of anecdote is not data.”)

                Furthermore, I don’t think the Chevron monopoly on large-format NiMH cells has been a real barrier to using them in PEVs (Plug-in EVs). That sounds like another of the conspiracy theories featured so prominently in “Who Killed the Electric Car?” At least one auto maker simply used smaller format NiMH cells in its pack. Furthermore, when Toyota finally made the first generation Prius Plug-in, they switched from the main battery pack using NiMH to li-ion, even though the car had a rather minuscule all-electric range of 11-12 miles! If NiMH is so great, then why the switch?

                I think there is more than a bit of bias here in posts praising the virtues of NiMH battery packs. Let’s see some hard data to back up these claims.

      3. Rennie Allen says:

        And they are, and always have been, useless pieces of junk.

      4. WadeTyhon says:

        It helps that the models you refer to were conversions and shared a lot of similar components with other ICE cars. So less custom parts – one of the issues with a low volume dedicated EV like the EV1.

        Despite this, only about 100 S-10s were sold. Less than 350 Rav4 EVs were sold.

        The majority of the vehicles for each model were only for lease, not for sale. As far as I know, all leased (aka most) Rav4 EV and S10 EVs were crushed.

        Any Rav4 evs and S10s that were driven significant miles over the years and are still running have almost certainly had their batteries replaced by now.

        Are any of Nissans Altras still on the roads? I know some went to museums. But only 200 or so were ever made, most went to fleets, and no one ever talks about them.

        1. Incorrect. Most RAV 4s were not crushed, and many remain on the road today – often with the original battery pack.

          1. WadeTyhon says:

            This is not incorrect as far as I am aware. I stated that the majority of *leased* RAV 4 EVs were crushed. Toyota continued to crush them as they came off lease until people complained and after GM got so much hate for doing the same thing.

            1500 Rav4 EVs were leased/sold in 4 years, Less than 350 were actually sold to consumers. Only a few hundred *leased* Rav4s were not crushed. But most went to institutions, parks, etc from what I have read.

            Do you have any exact numbers on how many were saved?

    2. PP, while the Lead Acid variant of the EV1 actually had a couple Lead Acid Battery types stuck in it, it was intended to get the new NiMH Battery but they got delayed.

      Once they DID get them in the car, instead of the 50-80 mile range, the EV1 got up around 140 miles range, and became quite usefull, even with the Level 2 only paddle chargers of the time.

      There were also GM built 4 seat variants of the EV1, PHEV variants too. The HMMV / HUMMER was one big distraction – less efficient for the job than an 80,000 pound Freightliner or MAC Truck!

      The Feds also F’d with CA, suing them for their Fuel Efficiency/ ZEV push as well. If GM WANTED to sell EV1’s, they could have:
      A) Adverised them as Sexy instead of Geek Toys,
      B) Sold them at $150,000.00 each,
      C) Ramped up volume instead of just hand building them,
      D) Offered for sale the 4 seat, and PHEV versions,
      E) Kept the NiMH for their own use, instead of selling it to Chevron!

      Nope, GM knew 20 years ago the EV’s – even then – would make their other poluting products less attractive, and by now would have put them in a situation where few would have so much interest in ICE product. The Hummer detour didn’t help. They still had to get bailed out.

      The good thing, if there was one, was that crushing the EV1 pissed off people, made GM infamous, and motivated others to restart the EV business, and got Elon involved! If Elon had the bucks that GM spent on the EV1, it is unlikey he would have met the cash crunch he did, when he considered getting Google involved!

      As to profitability, many Farmers only survive because they have their own food, and what they sell barely covers equipment costs, too! But you don’t hear much of that! Their own food is like CARB Credits, to Tesla.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Robert Weekley said:

        “If GM WANTED to sell EV1’s, they could have… Sold them at $150,000.00 each…”

        Well, I suppose that if GM had priced the EV1 at, say, $3-4 billion, they would only have needed to sell one of ’em to make a profit. 😉

        But snarkiness aside, Robert, I think you know better than this. You have to consider not only unit price, but also overall price for the program of developing, manufacturing, and selling the car. GM would not only have had to sell the EV1 at a unit price above cost to make a profit, they would have also had to sell enough of them to cover the cost of R&D and tooling-up. If the EV1 was priced as high as you suggest, GM certainly wouldn’t have been able to sell a sufficient volume to cover development and tooling costs.

        The fewer cars you sell of a model, the higher the unit cost. Again, Robert, I think that’s something you already know.

      2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Robert Weekley said:

        “Once they DID get them in the car, instead of the 50-80 mile range, the EV1 got up around 140 miles range…”

        Claims for range were all over the map. I think your 140 mile claim is one of the most optimistic I’ve ever seen. Certainly the average EV1 driver, even with the NiMH pack, didn’t get that kind of range.

        1. Nick says:

          “Certainly”.

          You keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means. 😀

          From Wikipedia: “… while the NiMH cars could travel between 100 and 140 miles between charges.”

          The EV1 was a very efficient shape.

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            …so then, assuming the citation you gave is correct, the average range would have been 120 miles, and not the 140 you claimed. That would also be the range when the car was new, not when the battery pack had lost some capacity due to age, which was certainly reported.

            So thank you for proving my point.

            * * * * *

            And, lest any of my gentle readers think Pushy’s opinions and facts regarding the GM EV1 are either on shaky ground or out of the mainstream, check out this short article:

            http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1658545_1658544_1658535,00.html

    3. SparkEV says:

      Related to battery tech is DCFC. Without it, even 300 miles range EV would be relegated to rich people’s toy market (or upper-middle class commute-only third car). DCFC is what makes EV truly practical. As such, I wouldn’t touch any EV without DCFC.

      1. GSP says:

        Spark EV,

        Well said.

        DC Fast Charge expands the utility of EVs to another level. Just having DCFC available, in case it may be occasionally wanted or needed, makes EVs much more competitive with ICE and hybrid cars.

        GSP

      2. WadeTyhon says:

        Yeah DCFC has made EVs infinately more useful. They can now fully replace a standard car in areas where DCFC access is plentiful.

    4. Chris says:

      The only reason the EV1 was doomed was because GM was committed to its failure. The same basic scenario has been playing out for years with today’s compliance cars: 1) Build an odd looking car with limited range. 2) Pay only lip service to supporting/selling it. 3) Claim it isn’t selling well because of the technology.

      The only difference now is Tesla has proven that EVs can be better vehicles than ICE vehicles. They’re faster, more energy efficient, and cost far less to maintain. Most people are still unaware of these facts, but more than enough are that the cat can’t possibly be put back in the bag.

      When the Model 3 starts shipping in volume in another year or so, lots of people will be surprised. Unfortunately, too many of those people are executives at other car companies. Their incompetence is endangering those companies.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        This is the argument made in “Who Killed the Electric Car”, and it’s largely untrue. Nobody put a gun to the head of GM and forced them to develop the Sunraycer or Impact prototype EVs, nor to develop the Impact into the limited production EV1.

        It was only after GM announced it was putting the EV1 into production that CARB got all excited about the possibility of zero-emission cars, and made requirements for them which were wholly unrealistic.

        NiMH batteries were good enough for mild hybrids like the original Prius and the original Honda Insight, but they were absolutely not good enough for a BEV. Even for those whose commute would have been short enough for the car, the NiMH batteries simply wouldn’t have lasted many years. NiMH batteries do well with a very shallow (~7%, as I recall) depth-of-discharge used by cars like the Prius, but no way would they have lasted for 10+ years if use for the 20%/80% (or more) deep cycle that current BEVs with li-ion batteries use.

        Yes, after CARB put out the premature ZEV mandate, then GM proceeded to kill off the EV1 program and infamously crush the cars, as part of their (ultimately successful) lobbying campaign to get CARB to roll back the ZEV mandate.

        So let’s not let the propaganda of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” go unchallenged. That propaganda film claims the reverse of the true cause-and-effect; it was the EV1 which caused CARB’s circa 1999 ZEV mandate, not the other way around!

        We should not let our EV advocacy blind us to reality, and the reality is that profitably selling highway-capable, street-legal, 4-wheeled passenger car EVs was simply not possible in first-world countries before cheap commodity li-ion batteries became available.

        1. alohart says:

          According to Prius owners, the Prius’ NiMH battery pack operates between 40% and 80%, or a 40% depth of discharge, far greater than the 7% that you have alleged. Our 2000 Honda Insight’s NiMH battery pack operates between 20% and 80%, a 60% depth of discharge. Our battery pack is over 8 years old and shows no signs of degradation. A NiMH battery pack can be more resilient than you think and can survive total discharge as well as overcharging unlike Li-ion battery packs.

          The higher voltage and lighter weight of a Li-ion battery cell compared with a NiMH battery cell make Li-ion cells more ideal for a BEV.

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            Well, perhaps the 7% figure I recall reading was an outlier, rather than the norm. So thank you for the correction on that.

            On the other side of the argument, quoting from the Battery University website:

            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
            Advantages and Limitations of NiMH Batteries

            Limitations

            Limited service life — if repeatedly deep cycled, especially at high load currents, the performance starts to deteriorate after 200 to 300 cycles. Shallow rather than deep discharge cycles are preferred.
            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            source:
            http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/archive/whats_the_best_battery

            And however well or poorly suited NiMH batteries are for deep cycling, that factor does not alter the economic reality of the state of battery tech circa 2000. Due to inadequate battery tech, the EV1 was too expensive to make to sell at a profit, and the NiMH pack was much too large; so large that the EV1 had only a cramped front seat. The space where the rear seat (and trunk) should have been were occupied by the rather large battery pack. That is, of course, another reason why the EV1 couldn’t have possibly been sold at a profit; the car was too much a case of extreme engineering to ever have found more than a niche market.

            1. Nick says:

              That’s an overly charitable reading of history in GM’s favor.

              I guess there white washing of history has worked. :-/

              1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

                If you want to know the actual facts about the EV1, then I suggest you read Wikipedia’s entire article. It’s surprisingly detailed, and covers the history quite well.

                Furthermore, unlike “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, the Wiki article sticks to facts… and doesn’t indulge in wishful thinking.

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_EV1

    5. Djoni says:

      Not to say that it was a car for everyone, but the latest EV-1 had 37 kWh Ni-MHz usable battery.
      This is more capacity than just about any EV on the mass-market today.
      Failure of the EV-1 was more about a new CEO from the food industries who knew nothing about car, technology and R&D.
      He came at a time of low sale and cut expense in every department he could to turn a profit for shareholder despite weak economy.
      This is why GM sold the Ni-Mh to Texaco, not understanding the true value of the entire R&D the EV-1 was about to bloom.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Djoni said:

        “…the latest EV-1 had 37 kWh Ni-MHz usable battery.”

        37 kWh of NiMH batteries is very definitely not equivalent to 37 kWh of lithium ion batteries. NiMH batteries work well with the very shallow charge/discharge cycle of mild hybrids such as the (non-plug-in) Prius, which is why they’re still used there. But NiMH batteries wear out quickly if you try to use them in a BEV, where deep cycling is necessary.

        Tesla started making and selling the Roadster in 2008. I really don’t think it would have been possible to make a similar car even just a very few years prior to that.

        1. Nemo says:

          No version of the Prius is considered a mild hybrid.

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            I think you’ll find that it’s common to refer to non-plug-in HEVs as “mild hybrids” on InsideEVs.

            1. If they do, it is incorrect. A “mild hybrid” is one that gets very little of its traction power from the electric motor.

              1. Jay Cole says:

                I’m not sure if PP is referring to in the community discussion or for IEV itself. For the site we try to avoid ‘splitting hairs’ as much as possible…and just go with “hybrid”

            2. Doggydogworld says:

              I’ve never heard the Prius called a mild hybrid, even on this site. Mild hybrid was a term used for GM’s old BAS system and a couple other systems with small electric motors. I think the old Honda Insight was a mild hybrid, but don’t quote me. Prius and other Toyota HSD cars were always considered “full” hybrids.

              1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

                I don’t recall seeing the term “full hybrid” before.

                However, given the replies here, especially since Jay Cole has weighed in, I will concede the point that a Prius should not be labeled a “mild hybrid”. I seem to recall seeing descriptions of non-plug-in HEVs in more than one InsideEVs articles — not just comments — as a “mild hybrid”, but if Jay says that’s not editorial policy, then I shouldn’t use the term that way.

                Actually I do agree that in general use outside of this website, the term “mild hybrid” seemed to be used to describe the sort of minimalist HEV which got only a few extra MPG from a small battery pack; what I supposed you, Doggydogworld, would describe as less than a “full hybrid”.

                Actually, I like that term “full hybrid”… I think I’ll steal it. 😉

                BTW — Regarding the first-generation Honda Insight, it’s what you would call a “full hybrid”, every bit as much as an early Prius is. I’ve actually driven my friend’s Insight a couple of times.

            3. WadeTyhon says:

              I havent heard a Prius be called a mild hybrid before. I only know of GMs early hybrids as being called this – at least in the US. The ‘mild’ was appropriate because this early GM hybrid tech was not very effective.

              But some people insist on calling the Volt just a hybrid rather than a PHEV or an EREV or an EV.

              These same people may refer to the prius as a mild hybrid just to spite Toyota 😛 Terminology may change in the future, but this is not something that is typical right now.

              1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

                WadeTyhon said:

                “These same people may refer to the prius as a mild hybrid just to spite Toyota…”

                Perhaps that’s it. If so, my mistake for failing to see the sarcasm. At any rate, as I said above, I concede the point, and will no longer call the Prius a “mild hybrid”.

        2. Djoni says:

          I understand that well.
          The battery technology of today is so much better, no question, but my point is that it was still revolutionary and doable, even with those battery in.
          But there were totally unrelated to the decision of cutting the EV-1 out of the game.

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            No, that’s just not true. Even if some claims here about longevity in deep cycling NiMH batteries in BEVs are correct, which I dispute, that doesn’t alter the fact that the cost and the energy density of NiMH batteries circa 2000 simply were not good enough for a BEV to compete with a gasmobile. Battery packs were too big and too expensive.

            GM could never have made and sold the EV1 at a profit.

    6. zzzzzzzzzz says:

      Neither Leaf (probably) nor Volt (for sure) nor Model S (for sure) ever sold profitably, when you account for massive government and private money poured into R&D, factory “retooling” and everything else. There are high hopes for the future, but only that.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Oh good grief, just what we need; a serial anti-Tesla FUDster weighing in with his usual B.S.

        Reality check: If Tesla was not spending money hand-over-fist to increase their production by 40% or more each and every year, then Tesla would show a net profit every quarter, and you Tesla bashers would have to find some other Big Lie to promote.

        1. zzzzzzzzzz says:

          Pu-pu:

          You should really read some picture book called “Accounting for idiots”, as you obviously are not capable understanding what the word “profit” means, nor reading Tesla financial reports.
          One more time for idiots: Investment doesn’t reduce profit as soon as it is made. Investment is accounted and only reduce profit as depreciation in future years.

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            Anti-Tesla FUDsters like you have been claiming that Telsa is “unprofitable” and that it will soon fail, year after year after year. How is your stock shorting investment in Tesla doing, hmmm zzzzzzzzzz? Get caught in yet another short squeeze lately?

            I’ll try to bear up under the *cough* terrible burden *cough* of being called a financial idiot by someone who has publicly proclaimed he thinks Tesla’s stock should be a “penny stock”! 🙄

            Go Tesla!

    7. WadeTyhon says:

      Thank you for arguing this point. Ive spent a lot of time dispelling some of the myths from WKTEC. I do think it is a good movie and was very important and lit a fire under the belly of a lot of people.

      But like Michael Moore, it takes a lot of liberties in pursuit of its own message. The most aggregious to me is the film suggesting to the world that this was an ev1 advertisement.


      This was never at any point a commercial for the EV1 as far as I have found. The voice over and music were created for the movie.

      Yet people constantly use this faked commercial as proof that GM was deliberately trying to kill all EVs for all time.

      The original image was from a print ad series which used similar out of focused but quite beautiful photography. A few of the other ads from this series can be viewed here.

      http://scottgoodson.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/11/which-advertising-is-better-gm-volt-or-the-ev1-the-father-of-volt.html

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        WadeTyhon said:

        “I do think it is a good movie and was very important and lit a fire under the belly of a lot of people.”

        I agree 100%! It is a very important film about the EV revolution, one that all EV advocates should watch at least once.

        But they should be warned in advance that some of what the film claims simply isn’t true; in fact, much of it amounts to creating or promoting an anti-GM conspiracy theory. It is well-done propaganda, but it is propaganda. Critical thinking needs to be engaged when watching.

        A lot of what’s in the film is true, and it’s quite educational when it sticks to reality.

    8. speculawyer says:

      They really were doomed to fail back then. The battery technology wasn’t good enough, the EVs cost way too much to build, and gas prices were at a record low.

      But times have certainly changed.

  2. Bsweet says:

    I agree with everything you said but the volt is not a ev

    1. jiminonjack says:

      +10000

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      A Volt is a PHEV, which most certainly is one type of EV.

      What it’s not, is a BEV. Thank goodness InsideEVs covers robust PHEVs like the Volt, not just BEVs!

      1. CLIVE says:

        ZEV is the winner !

        1. ModernMarvelFan says:

          CNG cars are considered/classified as ZEV in CARB. But it isn’t ZEV.

          FCEV is considered as ZEV but we all know about it and H2 is generated.

          PHEV is still ZEV when it runs in EV mode…

  3. Just_Chris says:

    Any technology PC’s, mobile phones, wind power, diesels in passenger cars, aircraft, absolutely any new technology goes through phases before it is adopted by the masses.

    My opinion is it goes a little like this:

    1 – it will never work, you are insane
    2 – ok it works but only in a lab
    3 – ok it works at scale but it costs way too much, has poor performance and is not reliable

    4 – No company will ever make money selling that, it only survives because of subsidies
    5 – If that technology replaces the current technology the world would end, or the world would run out of something

    6 – Wow that came out of no where

    7 – Company selling said new technology becomes evil – trying to crush all new technology.

    IMO EV’s are somewhere between 4 and 5. EV1 by GM was 3. FCEV’s are around 2 or 3. Diesel and hybrids are at the end of the cycle, especially in the EU where in the 1990’s diesel was going to save the world because of incredible mpg but now is just not good enough. IMO the end of a technology cycle is marked by everyone not understanding why we developed that technology in the first place.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Hmmm, I don’t think either digital cameras or cell phones were ever subsidized, or at least not until after they became popular.

      1. Just_Chris says:

        I think you’re probably right but there was a time where they were silly expensive, I also think those technologies were pushed by the military.

  4. Bob Nan says:

    Nissan did a smart move few years ago by introducing a base trim of Leaf which cost $6,000 lesser and this is what boosted the sales of Leaf to greater level.

    Now Nissan made another price drop of $3,000 by introducing the trim with 107 mile range at $30,000. Way to go Nissan.

  5. TM says:

    Nissan is keeping the faith. Hats off to them and I wish them much success. Ghosen took a lot of s*** in the early days. I hope he feels vindicated, and is enjoying his bonuses in whatever spare time he may eke out.

  6. Ezradams says:

    Enjoying the benefits of an EV (BMW i3) in the real world everyday.

  7. William says:

    Who knew, the diesel scandal might be the biggest turning point for EV.

    Of course it’s after Tesla Model S, without it, there is still no truly attractive EV.

  8. ModernMarvelFan says:

    I recall the times when LEAF was desirable…

    Now, where is that LEAF 2.0?