DETROIT -- Irked by the debate over electric vehicles versus plug-in hybrid vehicles, Nissan's top U.S. executive shot back at some of Detroit's automakers today, saying that they are “muddling” communications by calling hybrids “electric.”
Carlos Tavares boasted that Nissan North America is the only automaker mass-marketing a 100-percent electric vehicle -- a clear poke at his bigger competitor General Motors Co. and its acclaimed new plug-in hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt.
“Every car manufacturer on the planet is attempting to improve fuel efficiency, lower emissions, reduce ownership cost and achieve sustainable mobility,” Tavares, Nissan Americas chairman, said Tuesday at the 2011 Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. “But let's be clear. Zero-emission is every manufacturer's ‘end game.'”
And, he argued, only Nissan delivers that goal today.
“We certainly understand why some manufacturers would like to claim they offer an electric vehicle,” Tavares told the audience, which included GM CEO Daniel Akerson. “It's as pure a marketing message as you'll find. Consumers like when they hear it, and they want to know more.”
‘Muddling the message'
“But if you're calling your car electric and it has one of these,” he said, pulling out a car muffler and exhaust pipe from behind the speaker's podium, “you're only muddling the message. And you don't want to make your job any harder down the road. As automakers we have a duty to communicate with clarity and help educate customers on today's technology.”
Said Tavares: “If it's an electric car, it doesn't emit tailpipe emissions and it doesn't need gasoline. At Nissan we believe this difference is critical to consumers' understanding of which vehicle is right for them.”
“Consumers deserve greater transparency on complex and sometimes controversial electric vehicle topics,” Tavares said. “They deserve to better understand the difference between a plug-in hybrid and a 100-percent electric vehicle. They deserve the facts on what charging infrastructure is available today -- and planned 2 years from now -- to support their plug-in vehicle. And they deserve to know how these products can support their driving needs.”
Leaf vs. Volt
Nissan began selling the all-electric Leaf in seven markets last month. GM's Chevrolet dealers are also now selling the Volt, which runs on both battery power and a gasoline engine.
GM has touted the Volt's extended driving range of 310 miles, made possible by the gas engine which recharges the car's battery. Nissan targeted a range of up to 100 miles per charge for the Leaf, but the EPA rated its range at 73 miles on a charge. The Federal Trade Commission, on the other hand, rated the Leaf at 96-110 miles per charge.
Nissan has spent the past year priming the market for electric-vehicle technology, working with cities and states to plan for battery-charging infrastructure and educating consumers on how the electric-car ownership experience will work.
But in recent weeks, the Leaf has missed out on significant opportunities for recognition for its effort. In November, despite its use of a gasoline engine, the Volt was named Green Car of the Year by the Green Car Journal. And this week, the Volt was named the North American Car of the Year -- an industry contest in which the Leaf received a fraction of the votes the Volt received.
Nissan Motor Co. is spending $5 billion around the world to develop, manufacture and launch the Leaf. That includes $1.8 billion to build a battery module plant and assembly operation at its auto plant in Smyrna, Tenn.