DETROIT -- Nissan's top North American executive aired his irritation with some of his competitors at the Automotive News World Congress, accusing them of "muddling" the story of electric vehicles.
"We certainly understand why some manufacturers would like to claim they offer an electric vehicle," Carlos Tavares, Nissan Americas chairman, told an audience that included Dan Akerson, CEO of General Motors Co., the maker of the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt. "It's as pure a marketing message as you'll find. Consumers like when they hear it, and they want to know more.
"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 lectern, "you're only muddling the message. And you don't want to make your job any harder down the road.
"Let's remember, the destination for all of us is zero emissions. So we must communicate clearly if we're going to drive the industry and consumers to that destination.
"If it's an electric car, it doesn't emit tailpipe emissions and it doesn't need gasoline," he said. "At Nissan we believe this difference is critical to consumers' understanding of which vehicle is right for them."
Nissan Motor Co. has placed a huge bet on its all-electric Leaf sedan, spending $5 billion to develop the car and then build it at factories in Japan, Europe and the United States. It began selling the Leaf in seven U.S. cities last month.
But in recent weeks, the Leaf has missed out on significant opportunities for recognition. 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 from judges.
Said Tavares: "As automakers, we have a duty to communicate with clarity and help educate customers on today's technology."
Tavares also countered the argument that electric vehicles won't succeed because there is not an adequate charging infrastructure.
"How many 110-volt wall outlets exist in America today?" he asked. "Maybe 100 million? Our houses probably have several dozen each," and each can recharge an electric car, albeit slowly.
Some households are installing faster-working 240-volt chargers. Tavares said Nissan's research shows 80 percent of charging will happen at home overnight, using either 110-volt or 240-volt chargers.
He estimated that 15,000 new public charging stations, with 240-volt chargers will be installed by the end of this year. He predicted the number of such charging stations would grow "significantly -- approaching equivalency with the 115,000 gas stations available today by the end of the decade." And he predicted that within several years, there will be more public charging stations than diesel fuel stations.
"If diesel vehicle owners aren't worried where their next fill-up is going to come from," he said, "I doubt EV owners will be worried either."