Electric cars head toward another dead end
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Fueled by government subsidies and tax incentives, hybrid sales in Japan have rocketed to 40 percent of the industry total, with the Prius a top seller. Hybrids, however, have been far less popular with consumers in such major markets as Europe and China.
"WE ARE PRAGMATIC PEOPLE"
The outlook for pure electric vehicles is even more cloudy.
At the moment, Ghosn's heady 2009 prediction that electric vehicles would capture 10 percent of the global market by 2020 - 6 million battery-powered cars a year or more - doesn't seem remotely within reach.
Yet the gradual tightening of global fuel-efficiency standards from 2020 on is forcing automakers to assess their options, including the application of advanced technology.
Says Nissan's Yamashita: "It is not possible to meet (future) regulations unless vehicles are electrified."
The harsh reality of the market and the public's underwhelming demand for EVs, however, illuminate Nissan's recent decision to shift more of its green-tech investment into hybrids.
In December the company announced it plans to introduce 15 new hybrids globally by early 2017.
At the time, Ghosn said, "We are going to continue to heavily promote electric cars, but at the same time, we are business people, we are pragmatic people. We will also develop and deliver hybrids because there are markets and consumers that require hybrids."
Last September, Toyota publicly walked away from plans to build several thousand electric cars, scaling back projected volume to a mere 100 battery-powered minicars.
Both Japanese automakers, meanwhile, have forged new alliances to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars, Toyota with BMW and, in a deal announced last week, Nissan with Daimler AG and Ford Motor Co.
In the meantime, despite massive investments in battery technology and vehicles, even the most ardent EV adherents seem a bit ambivalent about the future of battery cars.
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