Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn Explores the Future of Mobility at 1776
Over the last four years at 1776, I’ve met with some of the world’s most influential business leaders. Richard Branson of Virgin, Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin, Michael Dell of Dell, Kevin Plank of Under Armour and Randall Stephenson of AT&T are a few of those business leaders who showcased a distinct vision for the future of their industries.
All of them credited their long-term success to collaboration with startups. Renault-Nissan Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn saw the future nearly 10 years ago when he launched the first mass-market electric vehicle, the Nissan Leaf, and he keeps innovating to make the car of tomorrow. During his visit to and fireside chat at 1776, Ghosn continued this conversation of the future and our economy to an audience of entrepreneurs, policymakers and media.
As Ghosn sees it, houses, phones and cars as the three indispensable things in our lives. The iPhone reimagined the way we use our phones. Now Ghosn says the car is going through a similar transformation beyond simply taking us from point A to point B, and he identifies three key areas to focus on: the car of the future, the smart regulations that will enable them, and the startups and talent needed to create them.
Car of the Future… in 10 Years
Ghosn says that in the auto industry he is always trying to think ahead 10 years and that within 10 years, the choice when you get into your car will be:
“Do I drive the car, or does the car drive me?”
Cars will be autonomous and connected with wireless Internet and television. The experience will make the driver feel as if they are in their own homes or office spaces.
However, Ghosn doesn’t believe that drivers can just sit back and fall asleep at the wheel. The technology still lacks the necessary judgment for scenarios such as broken-down vehicles, honking horns or objects on the road that require human adjustment.
There is an ongoing debate on what the impact of the workforce will be because of automation. As Ghosn cited, the American Trucking Association reports that there are approximately 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States, and the industry employs 8.7 million people. Ghosn doesn’t believe these drivers will be eliminated but that technology will be complementary, freeing up truck drivers to spend time on other tasks such as paperwork, while the truck does the driving.
The biggest hurdle right now is infrastructure. While you can easily find multiple gas stations at the same intersection, the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles needs to catch up. Ghosn said that consumers have to wait 10-15 minutes for a battery to be changed.
Smart Regulations will Enable Growth
The auto industry is one of most regulated sectors. So, how do car companies like Nissan advance mobility? Education for regulators and policymakers at the local, state, federal and international levels.
Renault-Nissan works closely with local officials in France, Japan and the United States on building infrastructure, standardization of electricity, understanding the safety of the technology and testing autonomous vehicles. If autonomous vehicles are to be successful, proper rules of the road need to be in place. And more importantly, regulators need to keep up with how fast technology changes.
In testing its Infinity Q50 city autonomous drive prototype in Silicon Valley, Renault-Nissan gained prior support from local leaders. The prototype is expected to hit the mass market by 2022.
In Japan, Renault-Nissan worked with regulators to bring its single-lane, autonomous ProPilot drive system onto its Serena minivan and then to market last year. Educating and collaboration with regulators allow Nissan to thrive.
Startups and Talent Are Integral to Success
Startups are helping the automobile industry build the cars of the future, and Ghosn sees value in startups and strategic partnerships.
Most often, startups pitch Renault-Nissan, but Renault-Nissan scouts the globe for talent in Silicon Valley, France, Japan and other major markets where it has a strong footprint.
If Renault-Nissan is interested, it will either co-finance these startups or invest in becoming a co-owner. Ghosn has found that Renault-Nissan will usually put money into a startup because it sees talent in the team.
In the case of ridesharing, Ghosn says that nobody knows where that market is headed. In January, Renault-Nissan acquired failed on-demand startup Karhoo for experimentation.
Even though Ghosn has announced he’ll be dropping his CEO title at Renault-Nissan in June, he’ll remain chairman to help shepherd these advancements.