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​Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn talks self-driving cars, EVs at New York show

The 2016 New York auto show kicks off in earnest this morning with a keynote speech from Nissan Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn.

Carlos Ghosn

Daniel Karmann/dpa/Corbis


Nissan Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn helped kick off the 2016 New York auto show with a keynote this morning.

When asked why widespread adoption of electric cars has been slow and seems to be slowing still, Ghosn gave three reasons. He stated that emissions standards aren't approached with the same level of urgency as of late, but that limits are lowering yet and we'll soon reach a time where EVs are the only way to meet the challenge of climate change and CO2 emissions. We're only in what Ghosn calls a "temporary slowdown." Next, the relatively high cost of EVs compared with their internal combustion counterparts means that EVs are still viewed as luxury commodities, even at the low end. Finally, the current deficit of infrastructure for charging EVs when compared to ubiquitous and cheap gasoline keeps many drivers away from the current crop of 100-mile electric cars.

Hydrogen fuel cells are even more affected by the lack of infrastructure. Ghosn seemed to almost dismiss the alternative fuel source, stating that "there are only like 10 hydrogen stations in the US" and that building more of these fueling stations is immensely more difficult than building electric chargers.

Ghosn said that Nissan is committed to bringing truly affordable EVs to the markets and that these future electric cars will be the ideal candidates for bringing autonomous driving technology along with them.

Today, Ghosn said, autonomous cars aren't "driverless" cars, but the automaker is actively lobbying in the US, Japan and in the EU to change laws to allow higher levels of autonomy without the need for driver intervention. Nissan's vision is that in the cities of the future "the car is going to handle everything."

2016 Nissan Leaf SL
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

To that end, Ghosn promised that Nissan will have 10 vehicles on sale by 2020 with "significant autonomous functionality" which implies that he's talking about more than mere autonomous parking or lane keeping assist. "Nissan will aim these future cars at the heart of the mass market," Ghosn stated, again speaking to the automaker's goals of making the technology affordable to the average buyer.

Near the beginning of his keynote, Ghosn stated that consumers have been very satisfied with the first few generations of electric cars. The Nissan Leaf, for example, leads the automaker's customer satisfaction, tying only with the mighty GT-R super sports sedan. This anecdote, along with Ghosn's talk of broader adoption of autonomous technology for the mass market has us placing bets that the next generation of Leaf will be among the first of those 10 "significantly autonomous" cars on Nissan's road to 2020.

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