The head of the Nissan-Renault alliance said Thursday that customers' adoption of electric vehicles will be a slow and gradual process, with traditional gasoline-powered cars continuing to dominate the market for many years.
Carlos Ghosn predicted that about 10 percent of vehicles sold worldwide in 2020 will be powered by electricity. The rest will be powered by gasoline, diesel, hybrids and other fuel sources.
"We're not going to take the market by storm," Ghosn said of electric vehicles. "Electricity is going to complement oil."
Ghosn made the remarks during a panel discussion sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Also speaking was Steven Rattner, the Wall Street financier who led the Obama administration's effort to restructure the U.S. auto industry earlier this year.
Ghosn has been a vocal proponent of electric vehicles. Hybrids are important too, he said, but Toyota Motor Co. has already staked out a leadership position in the hybrid market. Nissan Motor Co., however, can be a leader in the all-electric vehicle market, he said.
Nissan is releasing the Leaf electric car in limited numbers next year and plans to put the vehicle into mass-production globally in 2012. The vehicle is currently on a multi-city tour around the U.S. and Ghosn said more than 25,000 people have signed up on Nissan's Web site saying they are interested in the vehicle.
Ghosn said demand from rising economies like China and India will help lift demand for electric cars. He said as more people in those countries are able to afford cars, zero-emissions vehicles will be increasingly necessary given higher emissions levels.
"The public wants a solution to climate change," the head of the Japanese-French car alliance said.
When asked if he thought a gasoline tax would be effective in spurring electric car sales, Rattner said the idea was a good one, but it is politically unpalatable.
"It's obviously what we should do," Rattner said. "There's no political will. There's no political interest."