Global Voices: ‘Chinese EV makers are coming up very strongly, Nissan needs to transform itself to compete,’ says Makoto Uchida
Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the Japan Mobility Show in Tokyo earlier in the year, Nissan Motor Corporation's CEO, Makoto Uchida spoke of increased acceptance of EVs globally, intensifying Chinese competition and the role of affordable EVs in India.
Nissan Motor Corporation CEO Makoto Uchida said that the Japanese car maker is leaving the past ways behind and is quickly transforming to participate in the electrification journey of the future. The transition to EVs is gathering pace and Nissan is working overtime to reduce costs and make EVs more affordable and accessible. Having launched the Sakura Kei EV in Japan, Nissan not only wants to bring an affordable EV, but also wants to play a bigger role in the mainstream markets.
India is one of the important markets for the Japanese conglomerate, and there is ‘huge potential for growth,' says the CEO. Nissan Motor Corporation has announced a USD 660 million investment in India along with its alliance partner Renault. “We are investing in India and have new models coming up and we are looking at EV as well," he told Autocar Professional at the Japan Mobility Show.
How is Nissan Motor Corporation expecting mobility to transform in the coming decade?
We announced Nissan Ambition 2030, in 2021 and since then, the situation has changed a lot. One thing I can say is that we are not going to continue the way we have done in the past, for our future growth. If you look at the world, it is evolving at a high speed. When you talk about electrification, it has really picked up pace. The Chinese (players) are coming very strongly in every market and hence we need to further transform ourselves.
The threat of Chinese EV brands is not limited to only Japan, but the global market too. A huge differentiating point for those Chinese brands has been price. They've managed to sort of come in at a much lower price than models such as the Nissan Leaf and Ariya. Is that an area of concern, or an area that you're going to address in the future with potential plan or strategy?
Is that an area we will address? The answer is yes, because EV MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) is coming down due to subsidies on electric vehicles. One, is because of our competitor, and the other is that there are a lot of ideas on how the cost could be made competitive.
We talked a lot about how to be competitive in Mission 2030, on how we can bring (down) the battery cost, step by step and on the powertrain as well, but for me that is not enough. The market is (growing) much faster, so we are now preparing how the costs can be competitive and then gradually see how we could have an acceptable pricing for EV, which is already happening around the world.
Is the goal to match the Chinese price or beat them?
We need to look at how the market will evolve, and we do want to make it attractive in terms of the product and the market. Something that is acceptable to our customers. That is most important for us.
How critical is charging infrastructure or the issue of range anxiety since infrastructure development will vary from country to country?
Yes, Nissan has a lot of experience with electric vehicles, we have sold about 1 million EVs globally. As a pioneer in this EV space, we know what the customer behaviour is and one thing I can tell you here in Japan, we have a Kei segment car which dominates 40 percent of the market and we have introduced the Sakura Kei EV.
We would like to further see how the infrastructure would evolve. In markets, if we have an issue with the infrastructure or the charging stations, we can always introduce our e-power (hybrid technology), which some other countries have already started to do the same.
Kei cars are however only concentrated in Japan for now. Is there a possibility of exporting to emerging markets?
It is true that Kei cars are for only for the Japanese domestic market. However, we do have a lot of platforms that can be used in the A-segment, not only with Nissan, but with our brand partner (Renault, Mitsubishi) also. And we have a lot of plans of introducing this affordable-sized A-segment EV in the future. I cannot tell when, but we do have plans.
Could you give us an update on India and the way the Alliance is going to evolve its plans? What is your view on the size of the car? India earlier used to be a small car market. But now, bigger vehicles are becoming more popular, in the electrification space as well. So, what is the ideal form factor for EVs for the future?
India is one of the important markets for us. There is a huge potential for growth. We have been planning with our partner Renault the next steps for India for years, and we have already announced the plans. The world is changing and each country is changing. We should look back at what we have done in the past, from that, what we want to retain and what we want to transform, is the discussion we are having with our alliance partner.
We will invest in India and have a model line-up. We are looking at EVs as well. India used to be an affordable car, 4 metre sedan market, but I think there will be a lot of opportunity for high end models. The crossover SUV range could be one of the big markets, but I think affordable cars will still remain relevant in the future.
What happened to Nissan’s India strategy that the brand is left with being a one car model in a country like India which is a four million passenger car market?
We are announcing three cars in India, including an SUV. And when the time is right, we will show it. If you ask me today, are we at the right level? The answer is no. That is why we are discussing in depth how we are going to move forward in that potential growth market. It's not easy, it is challenging. There is a lot of competition. Many people are saying how they want to move to an electrified future in India. I think that is one of the government's key directions. So, we have a lot of work to do.
Since you mentioned Renault, can you give us an update of the state of alliance with them?
I always talk about the alliance and what it means. We cannot do the things from the past as an extension for the future. The world is changing. Business circumstances are changing. Customer expectations are changing. So, therefore, we decided with our partner how we want to place ourselves in the future. And one of the decisions was to make sure how each company can further grow by benefiting further synergy. And that is not only with Renault, but also with Mitsubishi that we are designing. And if we don't transform in that manner, if we stay as we were in the past, we don't see how we can grow. We have a lot of projects that we are working on.
This interview was first published in Autocar Professional's December 15, 2023 issue.
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