The importance of electric cars: an interview with Nissan’s

As part of our continuing series of articles about Alternatively-Fuelled Vehicles, we’re fortunate to have an interview with Karl Anders. Karl is National EV and Public Sector Manager for Nissan, which means that he has a detailed knowledge not only of the growing electric vehicle (EV) marketplace, but also of what it means for fleets. Unsurprisingly, he had a number of useful insights to share with us.

When most people think about Nissan and electric cars, they'll be thinking about the Leaf: why has the car been so successful?

The LEAF was really the first EV of the family car size that was reliable, practical and widely available. It was also a Nissan product, with everything that that entails. This wasn’t some untested vehicle from an unheard-of manufacturer – it was supported by warranties, hundreds of dealers, and, indeed, an entire multinational organisation.

We’re very proud of the LEAF’s success, and prouder still that it is currently the only mass-market EV that is built in the UK.

How important are electric cars, such as the Leaf, to Nissan?

Leadership of the EV market is one of Nissan’s core aims. About 35-40% of the company’s internal focus is on EVs, even though they represent only about 5% of our current sales. We know that they can be something that makes our badge stand out.

It’s hard to say whether this effect will continue into the future. Within the next three to five years, it’s likely that almost every manufacturer will have extensive ranges of EVs. But Nissan is still determined to lead this trend, ahead of the market.  

Is Nissan concentrating its efforts on EVS? Or are other alternative fuels important to you?

EVs are where Nissan is at, and we believe that’s where the future lies too. There are, of course, other alternatives available. But, as the driving ranges of EVs extend, and charging becomes faster and more available, I think a lot of those alternatives won’t be around for the longer term.

A lot of it comes down to the technology. EVs are very advanced in terms of their electronics, but they’re also quite simple mechanically – there’s the battery and engine, but also no clutch, no gearbox and no exhaust system. Compared to some other alternatives, with their multiple drive trains and fuel systems, the simplicity of EVs will appeal to both manufacturers and motorists.

And what about Vans and HGVS?

HGVs are very different beasts from cars and vans. They’re large vehicles that need to haul large loads across large distances. I can’t see them turning electric in the short to medium term.

As for vans, Nissan is already enjoying a lot of success with its e-NV200. This has the same running gear as the LEAF, and was the best-selling electric van in Europe last year. They’re especially popular in the UK, which has become the biggest marketplace for electric vans in the world.

Electric vans, such as the e-NV200, are perfectly suited to those operators whose vehicles might be doing about 50 or 60 miles a day, from a depot where they can be recharged overnight. They’re reliable and, crucially, inexpensive to run.

Do you think that most vehicles will be electric in 10 years' time?

That’s the million-dollar question. The Government likes to place the date around 2030 or 2040, but I think the movement is actually happening faster than that.

That said, I wouldn’t predict that everyone will be driving EVs in 10 years’ time. There will still be some applications – generally involving high mileages – that will require petrol or diesel. It’s just that the balance is going to change drastically.

Of course, looking beyond 10 years, EVs could become even more dominant. As batteries and drive trains become more powerful, then some of those heavy-duty applications may go electric. But that future is a longer way away.

What are the major benefits of EVS for fleets?

EVs are ultra-cheap to run compared to petrol or diesel. Electricity only costs about 2 pence a mile – and if you have solar panels on your roof that brings the cost down even further.

Bringing down fuel costs is crucial for fleets, especially grey fleets where employees are using their own private vehicles for work. If you’re paying 45 pence a mile for someone to use their own car, switching them on to pool electric cars running at 2 pence a mile can bring big savings.

There’s also the sustainability and social responsibility side to think about. There are few better ways for a company to demonstrate its commitment to the environment than turning up to meetings in an electric car. It can make a big positive impression.

In your experience, what concerns do people have about EVS?

A lot of it is psychological: people think that they need a much longer range than they actually do, and they worry about going somewhere without a charge point. As ranges increase, that’s becoming less of a problem, but those worries are still a barrier to take-up.

Some people worry about their battery longevity, but we’ve found that the batteries are ultra-reliable. Of about 250,000 Nissan batteries, we’ve only had to replace a very small handful. I believe it is still in single figures. If anything, the batteries will last longer than the car or the van. There’s more to be done on batteries though, both in terms of giving them a second life and bringing their cost down.

Another barrier is that EVs look a little different, and that can put some people off. But as they become more popular they become normalised, and more people are accepting them.

Who has the biggest part to play in changing some of these perceptions?

I think some of these perceptions will change naturally. It’s generational: the younger people starting to buy cars now are used to a digital world, and see electric cars as perfectly normal.

That doesn’t mean buyer education isn’t absolutely critical, though. Everybody needs to do their bit. Nissan is, of course, putting a huge amount into this. We have dedicated EV specialists, both within Nissan and at dealerships, who are there to answer any questions. We’re also promoting EVs wherever and whenever we can.

As for others, the Government should continue to lead, both by policy and by example. Dealers definitely have a role to play too. But I think the public does as well.

At the moment, we’re all relying on the Government and manufacturers to push the technology along. But the real driving factor will be consumer demand, and that means people working out the advantages and choosing electric cars for themselves.

Leasing companies can help make that happen by promoting EVs. Some of them, such as Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions, are doing a great job of highlighting the benefits, not only in terms of taxation, but also for air quality and running costs.

Ultimately, the key is for drivers and fleets to realise the economic, ethical and environmental benefits of EVs.