NASHVILLE -- Hearing Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn acknowledge that Nissan will not sell 20,000 electric Leafs in the United States this year, despite his unfailing assurances otherwise for the past year, I couldn't help remembering the 1996 Kevin Costner golfing movie Tin Cup.
It has been clear to almost everyone in the auto industry that there was no way in the world Nissan was going to reach the goal.
Luck has been conspiring against the seemingly modest target.
There was the Japanese tsunami last year that interrupted the car's U.S. rollout. There was the strengthening yen, which left Nissan's finance department without much wiggle room at the dealership. There was the softening of gasoline prices, which seems to have taken the urgency out of electric cars for the moment.
Every month, the 20,000 target looked even less likely. As of Oct. 31, the tally was 6,791 sales -- down 16 percent from a year earlier. But all year, asked relentlessly about it, Ghosn has been unswerving in saying that 20,000 sales was still the plan.
This week he told the press that it's not going to happen.
Ghosn: Falling short with Leaf sales.
Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
At the end of Tin Cup, Costner's stubborn down-on-his-luck golf prodigy ignores his caddy and supporters at the U.S. Open and attempts an ill-advised impossible shot over the water on the 18th hole. His ball rolls into the water.
The crowd gasps at the recklessness of the shot. TV sportscasters and game analysts begin calculating how Costner might still salvage his lead in the game by trying something different. Costner instead stuns observers by attempting the impossible shot a second time. His ball again rolls into the water. He tries a third time and fails again. He then fails a fourth time and then a fifth time.
The crowd begins to laugh at him and the sportscasters to mock him, but Costner's character remains impervious to the jeering. It becomes clear that he no longer cares about winning the game -- he merely wants to succeed at making this one impossible shot. At that point, the crowd begins to root for him. And finally, with the last ball in his bag, he sinks the shot.
He becomes heroic, despite losing the championship, for achieving what he wanted to achieve -- although not on the original timeline.
Victory belongs to the most persevering, a famous Frenchman once said. There's no shame in bullishness.
Electric cars are not going away. This is just the wobbly beginning of the market. Like any new technology, EVs will succeed or fail based on the drive and resilience of the pioneers behind them.
The movie character believed he could make his daring golf shot, and he eventually did. What the crowd thought never entered into it.