GENEVA -- High prices and limited range have held back electric vehicle sales, but Nissan remains a true EV believer.
"We don't deviate one jot from our determination to be a leader in electric cars," Andy Palmer, Nissan Motor Co. executive vice president, told reporters here. "We're absolutely religious about its execution. We're absolutely religious that humanity needs zero emissions."
With the global population expected to cluster in megacities by midcentury and with many large cities seeking ways to limit emissions from internal-combustion engines, long-term trends favor EVs, he said.
But the problem is the present.
Nissan set "extremely ambitious targets" for the Leaf EV and failed to meet them, Palmer said. But he said the company is making progress on both major obstacles: price and range. It is localizing production in the United States and Europe, insulating the Leaf from the still-strong yen. And it has revamped Leaf battery chemistry to boost range, claiming 124 miles per charge in the European Leaf.
But Palmer concedes that the development of charging infrastructure has been balky: "Globally the infrastructure deployment hasn't gone as quickly as we might have dreamed two years ago, but what we're starting to see is some governments stepping up."
For instance, he said, the United Kingdom has announced plans to finance as much as 75 percent of the cost of charging infrastructure. Building a network of fast-charging stations is more a matter of reassuring EV drivers that they won't lose power while on the road than a practical necessity, he said. Most of the 50,000 Leaf owners "hardly ever use fast-chargers" based on records from real-world driving, Palmer said.
"Each and every car is connected to the Internet, so we know how the cars are being used," he said.
Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn said Chinese government policies likely will push electric drive forward globally as China fights air pollution and seeks to reduce petroleum imports.
"I think the breakthrough will come from China," Ghosn said. "The Chinese have already taken a very hard decision. They say 2 million electric cars in 2020."
The Chinese government is requiring plans for what it terms "new energy cars" in any new automotive production capacity, he said.
"If you don't have electric cars, plug-in hybrids, don't even ask for authorization to increase capacity, even of normal gasoline cars," Ghosn said.
"All the problems are adding up to make China the largest electric car and plug-in hybrid market in the world."