Nissan LEAF, green enough?

Nissan has conquered electric vehicles. Next step, self-driving cars?

Transportation is responsible for a quarter of the total US greenhouse gas emissions[i]. In 2004, the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles was on the California Air Resources Board’s agenda. In order to become compliant with these standards, automobile manufacturers had to produce cars with greater vehicle fuel economy to reduce CO2 emissions. The regulation aimed for a fuel economy of 34 mpg in 2016, and a goal of 54.5 mpg by 2025[ii]. Although Nissan received a top-tier A-ranking for its corporate action on climate change in the past 3 years[iii], is the company innovating quickly enough to be viewed as an industry leader? Nissan has innovated in areas such as creating electric cars and reducing CO2 emissions in its manufacturing process, but has not made advances with self-driving cars as others have. Should self-driving cars be the standard, rather than Nissan’s prior performance?

The Nissan LEAF, released in 2010, is an electric vehicle which runs on lithium-ion battery and electric motor causing it to emit zero CO2 or exhaust[iv]. Compared to a conventional gasoline vehicle, an electric vehicle like the Nissan LEAF emits less than half the CO2 emitted from a typical vehicle over its lifetime (from manufacturing to disposal), causing major advantages to our climate[v]. However, Nissan’s success is much more than the functionality of the car; it includes Nissan’s ability to create a demand in mainstream society. Nissan has sold over 200,000 Nissan LEAFs, making it the best-selling electric vehicle in the world[vi].

To further this corporate responsibility efforts, Nissan looked to its manufacturing process to further limit its CO2 emissions. Nissan uses installed 10 power-generating wind turbines, using renewable energy to provide 5% of the electricity used at its UK manufacturing plant[vii]. Also, Nissan’s Spain manufacturing plant installed solar energy panels, making it the first automobile company in Europe to use solar energy[viii].

Between years 2014 and 2016, Nissan was ranked by the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) as the top tier companies to combat climate change in the annual Climate Change Report[ix]. The CPD Is a global disclosure system that allows companies to manage their environmental impacts and for investors to access this information. On an annual basis, the CDP releases a Climate Change Report which rates companies for their efforts to manage climate change[x]. It seems like Nissan is a leader in this area, but the question is – can they do more?

Companies, such as Google, Tesla, and Mercedes, have been making strides in developing self-driving cars. The climate advantages of self-driving cars rely on the assumption that the elimination of congestion and efficient driving will reduce carbon emissions. The sensors on these vehicles are used to detect speed of traffic, which allows self-driving cars to drive closer together, leading to a better use of the road and reduction in variability between cars[xi].  Further, self-driving cars can lead to strides in shared transport, thus eliminating the need for individual vehicle ownership[xii]. Some drawbacks with self-driving vehicles include the difficulty to program innate human nature in these vehicles, such as being assertive when crossing a crowded intersection, or making split decisions to respond to dangers as they present themselves. However, given Nissan’s leadership position with addressing climate change in the automotive industry, Nissan should enter into the self-driving car industry and leverage the advantages of being one of the first-movers into this area. (775 words)

[i] Anna Lim, “How Green is the Future of Self-driving Cars?” The Eco Guide, September 17, 2016, [http://theecoguide.org/how-green-future-self-driving-cars], accessed November 2016.

[ii] Nicholas Lutsey, “New Automobile Regulations: Double the Fuel Economy, Half the CO2 Emissions, and Even Automakers Like It,” Access 41 (2012), [http://www.accessmagazine.org/articles/fall-2012/new-automobile-regulations/] accessed November 2016.

[iii] “Nissan recognized for sustainability leadership by the CDP Climate Change Report for the third straight year,” press release, October 25, 2016 on Nissan Motor Corporation website, [https://newsroom.nissan-global.com/releases/161025-02-e?lang=en-US], accessed November 2016.

[iv] Nissan Motor Corporation, “Environmental Activities,” http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/ENVIRONMENT/CAR/FUEL_BATTERY/DEVELOPMENT/EV, accessed November 2016.

[v] Kimberly Aguirre, Luke Eisenhardt, Christian Lim, Brittany Nelson, Alex Norring, Peter Slowik, and Nancy Tu, “Lifecycle Analysis Comparison of a Battery Electric Vehicle and a Conventional Gasoline Vehicle,” UCLA, http://www.environment.ucla.edu/media/files/BatteryElectricVehicleLCA2012-rh-ptd.pdf, accessed November 2016.

[vi] Nissan Motor Corporation, “Environmental Activities,” http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/ENVIRONMENT/CAR/FUEL_BATTERY/DEVELOPMENT/EV, accessed November 2016.

[vii] Nissan Motor Corporation, “Environmental Activities,” http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/ENVIRONMENT/FAB/ENERGY_SAVING, accessed November 2016.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] “Nissan recognized for sustainability leadership by the CDP Climate Change Report for the third straight year,” press release, October 25, 2016 on Nissan Motor Corporation website, [https://newsroom.nissan-global.com/releases/161025-02-e?lang=en-US], accessed November 2016.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Erico Guizzo, “How Google’s Self-driving Car Works,” IEEE Spectrum, October 18, 2011, [http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/artificial-intelligence/how-google-self-driving-car-works], accessed November 2016.

[xii] Anna Lim, “How Green is the Future of Self-driving Cars?” The Eco Guide, September 17, 2016, [http://theecoguide.org/how-green-future-self-driving-cars], accessed November 2016.

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4 thoughts on “Nissan LEAF, green enough?

  1. It is very interesting to learn how could self-driving cars help address the challenge of climate change! I totally agree that self-driving car is efficient in reducing carbon emissions and leading to better use of the road. On the flip side, my concern is actually when self-driving cars make traveling so comfortable and easy, there would be more people willing to make more travels and thus we will have more people and cars on the road and longer miles traveled, which can also affect climate change negatively.
    However, in general, I do agree that advantages of self-driving cars far outweigh its disadvantages.

  2. This is really interesting – I had never really considered the emissions advantages of self-driving cars, I had always focused on the customer convenience elements. I agree that it makes sense for Nissan to explore this space given their leading position as an eco-friendly manufacturer, but I’m wondering how difficult that entrance would be. I’m thinking about the massive investments and the head shtart that companies like Google and Uber have in this space. It might make the most sense for Nissan to look for a leading self-driving technology company with which to partner. Nissan could continue to focus on making environmentally efficient cars and create a line of automobiles that includes their partner’s technology

  3. I really like the combination of electric cars with the self-driving technologies. Currently the biggest barrier of even more electric car sales is the battery life and the long charging time. When the majority of cars is self-driving this can be optimized with a surplus of cars. However, it will take a lot of time until there is a really broad coverage of electric cars and until then I still see problems with the current infrastructure. There are around 150,000 gas-stations in the US but only around 800 of Teslas super-chargers (https://www.tesla.com/supercharger). Is Nissan developing in similar technologies to make the charging process more convenient? While 200,000 cars might be a lot in the electronic-car segment, it still competes with around 1.2bn traditional cars (http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1093560_1-2-billion-vehicles-on-worlds-roads-now-2-billion-by-2035-report). Convenience could be one factor to improve this ratio.

  4. Very good post! Do you think the success of self-driving cars could have an unexpected negative impact on the environment? If driving (or being a passenger) becomes much more convenient, wouldn’t more people use cars? And with more cars in circulation, would CO2 emissions increase? I think it is essential that self-driving cars are all electric, otherwise they could actually worsen the situation…

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