‘Nissan Ambition 2030’ Was an Hour of Wishful Thinking


Nissan Motor Co. has confirmed plans to invest 2 trillion yen ($17.65 billion USD) over the next five years to accelerate its electric vehicle development program. Like most major manufacturers, the automaker wants to launch a bevy of electrified products over the next decade and derive a relevant portion of its income from EVs.

As explained by CEO Makoto Uchida on Monday as part of the “Nissan Ambition 2030,” the plan is to launch 23 new vehicles with some amount of electrification while it attempts to implement solid-state batteries into three concept vehicles that supposedly foreshadow future lineups. These include the battery-electric “Surf-Out” lifestyle pickup, “Max-Out” sports convertible, “Chill-Out” regular car, and “Hang-Out” adventure crossover. Though all three appear to be little more than drafts of vehicles Nissan would eventually like to build, boasting technologies that we’re not sure are feasible. For example, the Hang-Out is featured with a polygonal purple awning that oozes impossibly out of the vehicle’s roof. It lacks realism, which ended up being a central theme of the Nissan Ambition 2030 presentation that was broadcast on Monday

Uchida, set in front of a terrible CGI backdrop, opened with an announcement that Nissan was on track to lay the groundwork for progressive change. He then praised the Nissan workforce, saying that it was the people involved that made it possible for the automaker to return to profitability. While Uchida said that the company’s staff served as its inspiration to be more than it was, the reality is that Nissan laid off thousands of U.S. workers in 2020 and thousands more globally as part of its necessary restructuring efforts.

We seem to be off to a bad start.

As the presentation continued, Uchida promised that all future decisions made by Nissan would be informed by environmentalism. Uchida said that the company would need to make changes to combat the climate crisis, which was also listed as “addressing irreversible shifts.” Part two of the plan involved a vague commitment to improving social issues. But the resulting commitment seems like Nissan is trying to tackle everything from generic examples of widespread inequality to there being too many old people in various Asian countries. It was weird, unfocused, and had nothing to do with electric cars. But Uchida remained steadfast that developments in technology and the gradual implementation of artificial intelligence (hung on the catch-all term of “mobility”) would fix everything.

Things sort of came together when the CEO hinted at how transportation should be a social service available to everyone, rather than a personal commodity. It’s the usual Great Reset nonsense we’ve seen a lot of companies parroting lately, where giant multinational entities retain total ownership of products they used to sell to people under the auspices of being progressive. While the details of how this will work were left vague, Uchida said the updated business model would appeal to “savvy customers” that are socially conscious and environmentally aware. Hopefully, they’ll be so pleased with themselves after all that praise that they won’t raise any pertinent questions about how any of this benefits consumers, the actual environmental impact of the plan, or how confident executives are in achieving these goals.

From here, Nissan did what it should have done in the first place and went over its verifiable heritage as an automaker (/ˈôdōˌmākər/ noun: someone who manufacturers and sells cars). But the whole presentation had already been marred by the buffet of nonsense pertaining to the evolution of the industry and how it’s the company that’s going to stop selling cars and start changing the world by addressing societal problems it has no business tackling and has already deemed “irreversible.”

The next few minutes of Nissan Ambition 2030 were a barrage of industry buzz terms. Everything was about a diverse social journey that would not only be empowering but also help deliver mobility on a scale previously unrealized. Electrification would be fully democratized! Economies will be circular! Carbon will be entirely neutral! As this kind of talk is often misleading or totally devoid of meaning, my mind kind of went black until the CEO eventually started talking about specific denominations of money and vehicles Nissan might someday produce.

The relevant takeaways are that the automaker is doubling its spending to 2 trillion yen by 2026, with an aim to launch 23 new electrified vehicles by 2030 — 15 of which were stated to be pure EVs. The brand’s e-Power hybrid system is supposed to begin making more regular appearances in future lineups and it’s reportedly hard at work trying to implement solid-state battery tech.

By the fiscal year ending in March of 2027, Nissan (and Infiniti) hopes to have electrified vehicles (including hybrids) account for more than 75 percent of the total sales in Europe. It’s likewise targeting at least 55 percent in Japan and over 40 percent in China within the same timeframe. However, the United States, which remains an important market for the brand, isn’t expected to see 40 percent EV sales until 2031.

“The role of companies to address societal needs is increasingly heightened,” Uchida said. “With Nissan Ambition 2030, we will drive the new age of electrification, advance technologies to reduce carbon footprint and pursue new business opportunities. We want to transform Nissan to become a sustainable company that is truly needed by customers and society.”

But the reality is that the automaker is following in the more cautious footprints left by Toyota, which has been spending heavily on the development of battery technologies while planning to rely primarily on hybrid vehicles for consumer sales. That said, both have said they would expand commitments to battery annual production capacities — with Nissan vowing 130-gigawatt hours globally (by 2030) with help from partners. Uchida likewise said that his company planned to begin utilizing solid-state batteries offering double the energy density and increased reliability at lower costs by 2029.

“Battery cost reductions will drastically change the dynamics of EV pricing,” COO Ashwani Gupta said. “We are redefining the role of the car.”

Additional savings were said to be unlocked via the electrification (meaning automation) of Nissan’s production facilities. Combined with alternative energy solutions, Uchida claimed this would reduce CO2 emissions by 40 percent per plant by 2030 (vs 2019 levels). And all of this would be complemented by Nissan developing a comprehensive EV charging system that networks your entire home with the car, making it more of an extension of your domicile than an independent conveyance you park out front. Connectivity didn’t receive a lot of direct attention during the presentation, though Nissan made it clear that it would be a relevant aspect of future products. The only other thing covered in any detail was the battery recycling the automaker has planned, which will undoubtedly be necessary if EVs are ever to become mainstream and manufacturers plan to keep their environmental promises.

Nissan closed on their new concepts (pictured throughout the article), which will reportedly share heaps of components to help reduce production expenses. This is allegedly not a limitation, however, as the planned platform will be designed with solid-state batteries in mind. The company said this would allow for more versatility than any vehicle architecture we’ve seen, attempting to highlight this by showing the Surf-Out, Max-Out, and Hang-Out parked virtually next to each other.

While I understand that Nissan (most automakers, really) feels it’s necessary to lean into the progressive tech jargon to entice investors, people are getting tired of it. This stuff gets heaps of praise online but almost everyone I speak to in the physical realm rolls their eyes whenever I ask them about mobility programs. Nissan has a well-balanced lineup yielding several models that punch above their price point. Maintaining that aspect of the business should remain a focal point of all presentations and plotting while it tries to navigate tomorrow’s world. It would be nice to see the automaker (any automaker) keep one foot planted in reality before it gets whimsical for an hour about the way the world is supposed to be and what role it’s supposed to play in reshaping society.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing Nissan do the same stuff as the majority of its rivals — including blowing smoke up our collective ass. It’s hoping to monetize customer data, discussing ways to alter its business model to deprioritize direct ownership, and spending heavily to advance those programs within broadening financial commitments outwardly attributed to electrification. If we could isolate EVs from the rest of it, it would be for the best. But the industry would lose its ability to lump in nebulous environmental promises with business aspects people are bound to find less palatable. Though the worst part has to be how far in advance industrial commitments are made. By 2030, you probably won’t remember what Nissan or any other manufacturer said it was going to do and I am inclined to think that’s by design.

Try to recall what they said 2020 would be like eight years prior, when the entire industry was teasing the idea of self-driving cars becoming normalized. Back then, we were also hearing murmurings that EVs would be on track to reach financial parity with internal combustion vehicles by 2025 causing sales to skyrocket. Unless you’re counting the massive incentives being thrown around by government bodies, we’re not quite there yet and the goalpost is gradually being moved to 2030. I don’t want to be harder on Nissan than it deserves, even if its recent presentation was indeed abysmal. But it’s past time for the industry to start talking seriously to its customers, rather than crafting an ever-changing fantasy to appeal to investors and obfuscate some of the less-desirable aspects of their updated business plans.

 

[Images: Nissan]

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