Interview: Gareth Dunsmore, electric vehicles director, Nissan

Gareth Dunsmore is electric vehicles director at Nissan. He spoke to Thomas Barrett about persuading sceptical consumers and how electric vehicles could earn their owners’ money.

What is the biggest challenge – changing attitudes towards electric cars? or building the infrastructure to support their growth?

From my point of view, electric cars are perfect for many people. The real challenge is changing perceptions of what it’s like to drive and own an electric vehicle, and how easy it is to charge. But the job isn’t done yet and we continue to lobby for, and invest ourselves in infrastructure.

If we take the UK as an example, pretty much every service station has a charging point. More needs to be done so there is more depth but there’s an even greater need to have the luxury to charge whilst you park overnight in their home, or to be able to charge in a car park, office or at the train station.

80% of our customers charge at home or in the office.

I see with great pleasure solar panels enforced on new builds in California. In the UK it’s about ensuring new houses and offices are equipped with not only solar but a plug in the parking bay to allow people to charge easily as well.

A report by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics revealed that it takes twice the amount of energy to build an electric car as a conventional vehicle. Why is this? and what are Nissan doing to reduce it?

There’s fewer parts and moving bits but the battery takes a level of effort. But as battery production improves and the engineering and chemistry behind it does as well which will mean how much effort it takes to produce will reduce too.

From a Nissan perspective, we’re clear on our commitments to be more sustainable in every part of our business and reducing our footprint overall.

All of our Leafs produced in 2017 were in Sunderland, and the batteries were packaged and manufactured there. Just under 10% of all of our energy is produced from solar and wind, and that’s more than enough to produce all of our Leafs and battery packs. We’re conscious of it though, and it won’t stop there. We need to walk the talk.

Will the National Grid be able to cope with all the electric cars on the road?

It’s a chance to help the grid move to a more renewable base, so when you connect an EV up to the grid, there’s an opportunity to use it as a balancing service.

Energy balancing is desperately needed in the UK. It will allow a more stable way of using energy and will mean we can push energy into vehicles when there’s overproduction as well as out of them when there is an underproduction and undersupply.

That gives a chance for solar and wind, which perhaps aren’t as consistent, to be more of a part of the grid.

A smart infrastructure to connect these vehicles to the grid will help facilitate that adoption.

A lot of statistics that are used assume that everyone needs to charge 100% of the battery a day and that’s just not the case, they only need to charge what they use.

We recently launched Nissan Energy Solar in the UK, where you can purchase solar powers for the second life Leaf battery, and you can have a charger in a car. This creates an overall ecosystem that further reduces the impact on the grid.

The energy grid has coped with the introduction of ovens over the last 80 years, and ovens need the same amount of kilowatts to turn on and use as an electric vehicle.

Where do you stand on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?

We’ve had concepts in the past. We’re doing a lot of research into many areas, including hydrogen infrastructure in Japan in collaboration with the Japanese government.

If you look at the overall mix. It’s not just small cars, there are lorries, buses and aeroplanes. There are a lot of things that need to reduce emissions and hydrogen might be another opportunity.

Where does Asia fit into Nissan’s EV strategy?

China is doing more than many EU governments to move to electric vehicles. They’ll be the number one EV car market this year. Their targets to move to zero emissions are very aggressive, and the number of options for Chinese customers will be more than for European customers, with electric bikes added into that mix.

When you look at countries without the same level of wealth for infrastructure, it’s about investing in that infrastructure. In 2010 the infrastructure didn’t exist for Europe.

We’re now selling electric vehicles in well over 50 countries and were continually looking to expand that.

How do you persuade sceptical consumers?

We need to get it across that yes it’s more environmentally beneficial, but it’s also a more modern way of driving. It’s more connected and more fun which hopefully more people can experience.

For me, it gives you much more confidence at the wheel, when you pull up to a roundabout or a junction you pull away, the level of responsiveness that the 100% instant torque gives you from a Nissan Leaf or e-NV200 is startling. People think moving to EV will compromise the driving experience but it’s the opposiute.

I don’t think anyone’s looked at a vehicle as something they can make money out of. Customers will be able to drive and plug in at home, and generate revenue through energy balancing services to the grid. It’s already commercially operational in Denmark. We’re generating €30-40 per week, per van that’s connected.

Moving it from a cost to a benefit, it starts to change what’s possible with a vehicle. It’s not there yet but it’s a stunning way of thinking and exciting for the future.

Most people purchase through the used car market. We’ve got 100,000 electric vehicles on the roads at the moment, and these will go on to be sold. This provides a cheaper access point for people.

Is Nissan ready for the proposed 2040 UK ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles?

It’s not for us to set targets, it’s for us to deliver a quality product that will help give customers a choice and move towards zero emissions.

We’re ready to work and meet the challenges that are being set from a legislation perspective. What we’ve been asking for is a roadmap to get to that point which would show investment in infrastructure and support for businesses. It’s not just about private customers buying EV it’s about vans and business users, and making sure we can support all customer needs.

We need to make sure that as we move towards 2040 it’s not a sharp shift from 2039 to 2040 it’s a progression.

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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