Carlos Ghosn (and Steve!) Say the Time for EVs is Now!


Carlos Ghosn with electric cars.

In the wake of last week’s summit on climate change in Paris, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says, “The time for debate has passed. If the world is to reduce manmade greenhouse gas emissions that are the cause of global climate change, we must accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy now, starting with cleaner transportation.” By cleaner transportation, he means electric vehicles recharged from renewable resources.

That transition is coming, he says, one way or the other. “It will either be an orderly transition over the next two to three decades, or a disorderly one, spurred by crises and human hardship. Further delay in taking global action will only ensure the latter. An orderly transition is one that occurs within the existing financial and economic system. It does not threaten or overwhelm the foundation of our market economy. It does not require aggressive government intervention and centralized demand and control.” Then he adds, “An orderly transition provides an opportunity to create many winners, because adaptive and innovative companies will flourish.”

Winners? Really?

The New York Times reports that not everyone in the business community is as willing as Ghosn to accept the message of the Paris conference. “The Paris climate conference delivered more of the same — lots of promises and lots of issues still left unresolved,” sniffed Stephen D. Eule of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Apparently, the Chamber’s members think they win if the whole world is destroyed, just so long as they have plenty of cash in their pockets when the end times come. How it is possible for such stupidity to be rampant upon the land is an enduring mystery.

In a post written for Forbes, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has an answer for such nattering nabobs of negativism. “By investing in green innovation, companies can create value for their future while playing a major role in fighting the threat climate change poses. In fact, according to the latest New Climate Economy Report, produced by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, the global market for low-carbon and environmental goods and services is worth more than $5.5 trillion. This kind of investment will continue to grow. It has already helped many businesses create competitive advantages, build stability, and better position themselves for future challenges.”

Idiots like the members of the US Chamber of Commerce seem to think they have a God-given right to continue making money doing what they have always done in perpetuity. In fact, the basic premise of capitalism is that new ways of doing business should always shoulder older, less efficient enterprises out of the way to make room for the most current technologies. To hear them tell it, the British East India Company should still be lord and master of the world, propped up by the sailing ships of the British navy.

Ghosn calls upon world governments to continue providing incentives for electric cars, whether via direct means such as tax rebates, or indirect means such as free parking in congested areas or access to HOV lanes on highways. He acknowledges that the transition will take several decades, but the time to begin is now, he says.

I would like to add one idea to the renowned Carlos Ghosn’s formula, though. Many consumers still don’t know what an electric car is or how driving one is different than driving a car powered by an internal combustion engine. Many people who have driven an electric car rave about the experience and say they never want a a fossil fueled car again. Yet, the internal combustion engine remains a hot seller.

I — and smart people like Tesla and the CEO of AutoNation — blame the existing franchise dealer model.

See, in order to buy an electric car, people first have to find a dealer. Then, they go in and get talked to by some salesperson who may or may not know anything about electric cars. Because fear of the unknown is still a big factor holding ordinary people back from considering an EV, the salesperson’s lack of knowledge can make the whole idea of EV ownership kind of scary — even in the face of public events designed to let people test drive an electric car and learn about them from people who are not angling to earn a commission.

If you ask me, every electric vehicle manufacturer (on four or two wheels) should be begging for opportunities to let people drive their cars or creating those opportunities themselves!

The more buttocks get plopped down behind the wheel of an electric car, the more electric cars will get sold. This is such a no-brainer, it astonishes me that no one is doing it, not even those very smart people at Tesla. National Drive Electric Week does this once a year and it has been a huge hit, but here is a lesson on how dumb some manufacturers can be.

One prominent electric car manufacturer, who shall remain nameless, brought a prototype of its new $35,000 EV with 200 miles of range to an NDEW event in southern California last fall, parked it on a stand, then locked it so no one could sit in it and walked way. They didn’t even leave anyone behind to talk to people about the car.

That really happened — forcing us to wonder about how many brain dead executives there can be be in Detroit!

My advice: Get the product out in the wild. Let people see it, touch it, drive it. Answer all their questions, then be ready for a tsunami of orders. If anyone in Detroit is paying attention (a big if, I know), I would gladly share my marketing strategy with you and show you how to implement it. And I will do it for half what your head of marketing earns. Just leave your phone number in the comments section. I’ll be in touch.

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • RedmondChad

    I agree with most of what is said in this article – an orderly transition will be far more enjoyable and far less costly than an unorderly one; an orderly one is going to have to start now; the biggest issue with PEV demand is that most consumers incorrectly assume PEVS are boring, expensive, inconvenient and so don’t even want to consider them; and that giving people a ride in a PEV is by far the best way to get them to want a PEV. Events like National Drive Electric Week are very effective, and I strongly encourage similar things like Plug In @ Work and for PEV owners to give rides to all of their friends and family.

    Tesla does do a lot of driving events and encourages its product specialists to give rides…though a small company with expensive, cool cars can easily get overwhelmed. They are already selling all the cars they can, so they try to target people that are somewhat likely to buy their existing cars, so what they do is not as widespread as it may be in future years.

    I do find it odd that GM didn’t have a rep accompany their Bolt prototype to the National Drive Electric Week event that they displayed it at. However, I can understand why they didn’t give rides, or even let people in it – it was a prototype with a one-off interior. No sense building demand for a car they can’t sell yet. GM corporate is pretty good about providing Sparks (where available) and Volts for other events, although many (not all!) city captains for NDEW events have a hard time getting local GM dealers to participate – but you already addressed the issue with dealers. Some already are bought in, and more will over time. They will have to as demand increases.

    • Steve Hanley

      Thanks, Chad. Did I say it was Chevy who brought the prototype, locked it and walked away ; – )

      When I was in the car bidness, the number one rule was “The feel of the wheel seals the deal.” You gotta get customers into cars and let them drive them. It’s marketing 101.

      If I was a car dealer with EVs to sell, I would put a couple on permanent test drive duty with some knowledgeable people on hand to answer questions. Those people would need to be well compensated.

      That’s part of the problem. The cars are just not profitable for dealers at this point. The manufacturers need to figure out how to fix that.

      • James

        The only way to make electric cars as profitable for the dealers as traditional cars is to provide the dealer higher margins to compensate for the increased sale time as well as the lost repair revenues. But I don’t think this will work. Any additional margins will be bid away through competition between dealers. If the sales process becomes too much more efficient to make up for lost revenue dealers run the risk of becoming outwardly irrelevant.

        I believe that if electric cars dominate the market the traditional dealer model will be forced to change. I can see something similar to Tesla with a split between sales and repair as separate entities but still using a franchise model.

        • Steve Hanley

          Good points, James. You are right.Electric cars are fundamentally different than ICE cars, and the way they are sold will probably become fundamentally different too as time goes on.

          When Elon said he wanted to disrupt the car business, he meant ALL of the car business!

  • DdavidD

    There are professional peddlers of doubt out there trying to “create confusion” where there otherwise wouldn’t be.
    The oil industry is paying big money to dilute, question, and contradict science. They are hiring the same “fake experts” that the tobacco industry hired in the 1980s.
    An excellent documents spells it out clearly – “Merchants of Doubt” – I recommend it.

  • Jay Nogales

    Hello Steve, I am with you all the way, Currently I am, you may say, a new EV Promoter in the Metro Wash DC area. I believe in zero emission vehicles and I want to do my part I am currently looking for an opportunity in the area of Fleet Electrification, If you have any pointers please I would love to hear. Please feel free to write a couple + of lines to: Have an awesome holiday season my friend, Cheers ! 😀

  • Meh. If race wins really sold cars the Lancia would be the best selling car company in the world.