Nissan chief Ghosn doubts China can take electric car lead this year

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 April, 2010, 12:00am

Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of Nissan and Renault, has expressed reservations about China's hopes of leading the world in the sale of pure electric cars this year.

'We don't see that happening yet,' he said at the Beijing Auto Show yesterday, reflecting the vehicle industry's concerns about delays in Beijing's official policy to encourage sales of green vehicles.

Ghosn (right) is an advocate of environmentally friendly vehicles as he believes it is for the sake of future generations. It may also be good for sales.

As the first non-Japanese to manage Nissan, Ghosn is keen to realise a massive introduction of pure electric cars.

Nissan's US$25,000 Leaf has been launched in Japan and will sell in the Chinese market by next year.

'We'll sell the Leaf in selective cities like Guangzhou and Wuhan as the first step,' said Ghosn, adding that the carmaker is waiting for Beijing's policies on alternative-fuel vehicles before the carmaker launches the Leaf across the country.

Xu Changming, a director at the State Information Centre, said earlier that the government was rethinking plans to provide subsidies for green vehicles because of quality issues.

Aiming to outpace Japanese and American car markets, the Chinese government hopes domestic carmakers can be pioneers in the mass production of pure electric cars - much like Japanese carmakers dominated the world's market with small family cars 20 years ago.

The Beijing Auto Show this year is themed 'For a Greener Tomorrow'. There are 95 alternative-energy cars at the show, accounting for almost 10 per cent of the vehicles on display. Companies such as Honda Motor, Volvo and SAIC Motor Corp have plans to launch hybrid or pure electric cars on the mainland soon.

Putting aside the wish of the central government, the world's car bosses point out that it is still unknown how China will realise its goal of leading the world in green car production.

'[It] may or may not lead the world but China is a market with a cutting edge,' said Nigel Harris, the general manager of Changan Ford Mazda Automobile.

Beijing has delayed the long-awaited consumer subsidies for alternative-fuel vehicles, which were expected to be announced in the first quarter, because of disagreement within the car industry over whether to favour hybrid cars or pure electric vehicles.

'The tools [for making green cars] are there, we just need to see how people combine them together,' said Kevin Wale, the president and managing director of General Motors China.

Wale said it was not important for the country to lead the world in green car production but it definitely was an important market as the world struggled to solve its energy issues.

Industry executives say the government is reluctant to give huge subsidies for hybrid cars because it wants to push domestic carmakers into developing purely electric cars.

Car company BYD said earlier it would make 100 of its E6 electric car for use as taxis in Shenzhen, where it is based.