NASHVILLE--Imagine selling cars in a country with no gas stations. That's the challenge facing Nissan Motor Co.'s electric-vehicle ambitions. No recharging stations, no Nissan electric-vehicle sales.
Enter Tracy Woodard.
"It's sort of a chicken-and-egg thing," she says. "You can't sell EVs until there's an infrastructure. These things have to be hard-wired, and communities have to plan for that."
Woodard, director of government affairs at Nissan North America, has been on the road almost nonstop since last year, appealing to cities and states around the country to stimulate the creation of local electric-vehicle infrastructures.
So far, Woodard has worked out partnerships with governments and utilities in eight cities, states, or regions, including San Diego, Phoenix, and Raleigh, N.C. Local authorities have pledged to begin moving forward on electric-vehicle recharging networks, making new power-grid plans, devising residential electrical permitting policies, and the like.
Nissan aims to be the industry leader in mass-marketing electric vehicles in the United States. In June, the company said it will spend $1.6 billion to construct an electric-vehicle assembly operation in Smyrna, Tenn., along with a factory to manufacture lithium ion batteries. It will train 1,300 employees for the task.
Nissan wants to begin selling electric vehicles to fleets next year. The company expects to begin retailing a new five-passenger plug-in electric vehicle through dealerships in 2012, although dealers in some markets might get it before then.
Shuttling through airports almost every week, Woodard has been calling on contacts she knows from two decades in government relations.
Hearing last year that Portland, Ore., intended to install an electric-vehicle recharging system, Woodard introduced herself to the city's utility officials and ended up with a Nissan partnership. The partnership makes Nissan's technical resources available and creates a to-do list to prepare for market launch.
Not all cities are signing up. In some cases, such as in cash-strapped California, communities are hard-pressed to commit people to the project. But by the end of this year, Woodard hopes to have as many as 15 regions signed up.
But isn't Nissan essentially paving the way for competitors to enter the market and sell electric vehicles?
"That's true," Woodard agrees. "We're pathfinders. We'll end up opening the market for everyone.
"But if that happens, that's great. The market's going to grow."
(Source: Automotive News)