Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Ghosn Goes Green -- Developing What He Couldn't Acquire With GM

Add Carlos Ghosn to the growing list of auto executives who are not only committed to developing eco-friendly vehicles, but are actually putting major R & D dollars behind the effort.  Unfortunately for Nissan, the effort will be costlier, and take more time now that the GM alliance idea is dead.

First, the "green platform" from Nissan.  It's a major commitment. After watching the other major automakers sink billions into developing gas-electric hybrids, clean diesel, e-85 ethanol, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, Nissan is finally doing the same thing.  It pledges to build a gas-electric hybrid, using Nissan developed technology, on the road by 2010. Next year, Nissan's first hybrid, the Altima, will hit showrooms using technology developed by Toyota - the industry leader in gas-electric hybrids.

But Ghosn's not just making hybrids, he's also committing Nissan to building clean diesel powered cars and trucks, flex fuel vehicles in North America within three years, and an all electric "test" vehicle within 10 years. Nissan's even wants to create a separate company to develop and build lithium-ion batteries - a huge statement by Ghosn that he wants to cash in on an industry turning more and more towards battery power.

This announcement -- coming just weeks after the proposed Nissan/Renault-General Motors alliance talks died -- highlights one of the reasons Ghosn was interested in the world's largest automaker. During the talks, much of the media focused on how much Nissan would have benefited from greater access to North America, and to China, with GM's strong positions in two markets where Nissan and Renault are relatively weak.  But overlooked is how much Nissan/Renault coveted, and would have benefited from GM's hybrid and green technology programs, which are just starting to kick in gear. Now that the potential GM partnership is dead, Ghosn and Nissan could no longer afford to watch the rest of the industry develop the next generation of alternative powered vehicles. 

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