We spoke to the man in charge of the Japanese car maker and asked him about batteries, autonomy and semiconductors.
It is almost two years since Makoto Uchida became Nissan CEO in the wake of not only the high-profile criminal case against Carlos Ghosn, but also his predecessor’s failed expansion strategy that has resulted in a multi-billion-dollar loss for the company, its worst for 20 years.
After implementing a huge reorganisation plan, Uchida should return Nissan to profitability this year. He is now preparing the firm for a big expansion of electrified models, including a new Leaf-replacing crossover that will come from a $1.8 billion investment into a new factory.
Is there any doubt over the future of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance?
“The Alliance is something we have a lot of experience with. When I took the CEO job, we sat down to look at what went where. We have access to each other’s technology, and we look at how to maximise this for scale, for cost-effectiveness. For example, we have the same battery specification as Renault. We can then enjoy the cost-effectiveness and volume. Across three brands, that’s really something. So the Alliance is globally using each other’s assets to grow each company. There are no internal discussions at all [on the Alliance’s future]. I’d ask the same question from the outside – but inside, never. I’m not lying; we’re really focused on how the Alliance can grow each brand.”
Solid-state batteries always seem to be a couple of years away. When will there finally be the long-promised breakthrough in battery technology?
“Cobalt-less batteries are coming. Beyond that, it’s solid state. We will be very [cost] competitive, as without that we would not be able to survive.”
Can you make a business out of being a mobility company?
“It’s different in different markets. Car sharing is dominant in China, but not in Japan or elsewhere. We’re experimenting in Japan [with mobility services] in one city, doing lots of experiments. We’ll be growing that in the future. Is it going to make a business? [We’re] still on the way. Not straight away. We’re looking at how we can contribute to society with these solutions. This is different to autonomous driving and our goal to improve safety to zero fatalities in a Nissan.”
How big will Nissan’s range of cars be in the future? Will it include small cars?
“Do we have sufficient cars now? Worldwide, it’s too many. We need to maximise volume initially with electrification. The customer will decide if the cars are big or small.”
How is the development of autonomous cars progressing?
“ProPilot 2 [Nissan’s active safety technology] is something we have invested a lot in. You have to look at the regulations in each market. At some point, you have to admit that artificial intelligence technology has lots to do to reach the level of a human eye. Eyes are more advanced than AI. It depends then on what the transport is for what we offer [for fully autonomous vehicles], on things like shuttles. Then we can deployfor each market. Day by day, the technology is improving.”
Are there signs of improvement in the semiconductor crisis? Toyota has hinted at a recovery.
“It’s too early to say. It’s not only a supply issue, as the impact is still big from Covid. Our equipment and supply is not just from Japan but western Europe and all over – it’s just not been possible [to travel and move parts around as freely] with Covid. We anticipated this when we saw iPhone sales went up in September 2020, so we knew an impact was coming. It’s important to diagnose our own supply chain, which we need to restore and make sure this doesn’t happen again. Step by step, it’s getting better, but I’m not as optimistic as my friends [at Toyota].”