Pondering a ‘freedom tool' with Nissan's Carlos Tavares

PARIS -- The term “freedom tool” sounds like a contradiction in terms. But it most likely is where the car is going.

That's the takeaway from a chat with Nissan North America chief Carlos Tavares on the floor of the Paris auto show today. Tavares gave a long, thoughtful answer to my question about how the oddball Townpod concept might fit into Nissan's electric vehicle lineup. After all, Nissan went out of its way to make the Leaf mainstream.

Tavares' answer, distilled, is that the professional life of many urban dwellers in coming years is going to require a high degree of flexibility, juggling personal life and a freelance career with a batch of clients. The Townpod -- part van, part small urban EV -- is an attempt to create the “tool” for such workers.

The “freedom” part?

Nissan, like a lot of other automakers, is looking at projections that in coming decades, most people will cluster in sprawling megacities. These are places where big, petroleum-burning vehicles will likely be banned or seriously restricted. So the “freedom” of personal transportation will come from EVs that are compact and nonpolluting.

The Townpod might look a little off-kilter today, but something like this could represent the “freedom tool” that the auto has been since the days of Tin Lizzie.