Nissan Stealthily on Track for Electric Car World Domination

As the dust settles out from the 2008 LA Auto Show, Nissan has clearly emerged as the car company to beat in our transportation future.


From a green perspective, even though the Mini E is getting the most hype, the Mitsubishi i MiEV is one hell of a fun car to drive, and the Honda FCX Clarity is cutting edge, those are just cars. The true measure of a car company lies in its strategies, and, after Nissan’s recent media blitz, the company has shown that there is not a single other auto manufacturer out there who “just gets it” like they do.

“What’s so cohesive and salient about Nissan’s big-picture strategy,” you ask? Here are some snippets:

  • Nissan is bringing the first of their electric cars to market by 2010 in many locations around the United States. According to Alan Buddendeck, Nissan’s VP for North American Corporate Communications, this car will be priced between $22-$25K and have at least a range of 100 miles.
  • By 2012, Nissan will be bringing an entire lineup of affordable electric cars (sedans, minivans, compact cars, and sports cars) to the world market. This isn’t just some limited roll-out, and they’re beyond serious about it. Their overarching business plan has been re-written to focus on zero emissions vehicles.
  • Nissan has rolled out a rather ingenious plan of collaboration with as many state, local and federal organizations that are willing to cooperate with them to develop the infrastructure needed for an electric car-based society.
  • They have taken much of their top-level engineering and marketing talent and fully diverted them into the electric car project. Besides allowing Nissan to reach their goals, this strategy seems to have energized and remoralized the company as a whole — you can see it in the way they present themselves.
  • In addition to diverting huge amounts of resources to the project, Nissan has made the conscious decision to open otherwise proprietary information to their partners. Essentially it seems that Nissan has gone mildly “open source” in their approach to Getting Things Done. Power to the people.

It’s actually this last point that convinced me Nissan is the one to beat — the dominant force to follow into our seemingly overwhelming challenge — and I’ll tell you how I got clued into this reality. While I was down in LA last week, I had the chance to talk with several high-ranking project management types from many different companies

When I asked Peter Krams, the engineer in charge of the Mini E project, if Mini was interested in conducting the same partnerships as Nissan and what he thought about Nissan’s strategies, I was surprised by his answers.

Mini is of the mindset that all of their development should remain in house to protect their bottom line and that Nissan’s strategy is stupid because it doesn’t maintain their intellectual property. So, essentially, Mini wants nothing to do with the sharing of ideas because they think they won’t maximize their profits if they do. That’s so f-in old school, it drives me nuts. My immediate thought was, “I guess we’ll be seeing you in the junkyard then.” Mini will be left in the dust with this mentality.

Likewise, when I talked with David Patterson, Mitsubishi’s senior manager for regulatory affairs and certification, and asked him about Nissan’s strategies in Oregon, his reaction showed that perhaps Nissan had beaten them to the punch and he wished Mitsubishi had had the idea first. In fact, after Nissan’s announcement of collaboration with Oregon, apparently Mitsubishi called up some officials in the state to see if they could get a piece of the pie. While it’s exceedingly cool of Mitsubishi to realize how good Nissan’s strategy is, at this point they’re playing catch up.

One final point: If the Big Three are swirling the toilet bowl drain getting ready to be flushed, Nissan represents the exact opposite. In fact, Nissan could be the blueprint for the Big Three US automakers to pull themselves out of their nosedives and stop bellyaching about this or that problem that has held them down.

Look, if GM, Chrysler and Ford would put out a plan like Nissan’s, they’d find much less resistance in the public towards a bailout. How difficult is it really? In a way, Nissan’s plan is simply common sense orchestrated on a grand scale and communicated precisely.

Which is why it strikes such a chord with the public. It does the world a true service while at the same time positioning Nissan for automotive domination. In many cases, people simply need to see good leadership and they’re convinced. In fact, as I hinted at before, we may be witnessing the birth of a new paradigm in corporate strategy, the introduction of “open source” business planning.

If I’m right, It’s a bold new plan for this brave new world and I wish Nissan all the best — but, from what I’ve seen, they really don ‘t seem to need it.

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.