Nissan aims to maintain lead over Tesla and VW in reusing batteries

Nissan Motor Co Ltd updates

Tesla’s Model 3 has already overtaken Nissan’s Leaf as the best-selling electric vehicle of all time. But the head of the Japanese electric vehicle pioneer says his company retains a head start in one crucial area: giving a second life to car batteries that are past their prime. 

Makoto Uchida, Nissan chief executive, told the Financial Times in an interview that the group wanted to expand its knowhow in collecting lithium ion batteries from old Leafs worldwide. The batteries are reused to store renewable energy at 7-Eleven convenience stores and to power railroad crossings and delivery robots in factories.

Such technologies to extend battery life and to recycle materials are expected to pose a significant challenge for the automotive industry’s push to electrify their fleets.

“There will be a lot of discussion in the coming days on how we take care of the total life cycle assessment of the electric vehicle,” Uchida said. “Nissan has poured its energy into recycling from long before public debate began on this issue.” 

Nissan has sold more than 530,000 Leafs since the vehicle was launched in 2010, making the company one of the few automakers to have electric vehicles on the road long enough for batteries to reach the end of their car life. 

“Tesla, Volkswagen and others are introducing EVs but they are still far from receiving batteries,” Joji Tagawa, Nissan’s chief sustainability officer, said in a separate interview. “We have a lot of return batteries and we have made a lot of trial and error on which battery will be used for which purpose.” 

Through 4R Energy, a joint venture between Nissan and trading house Sumitomo created in the same year that Leaf was launched, the carmaker has studied various ways to repurpose batteries so they can be used to generate renewable energy in homes and buildings as well as for emergency power during natural disasters. The Leaf itself is made of materials that are 99 per cent recyclable.

Nissan, which is part of an alliance with France’s Renault and Mitsubishi Motors, has already started rolling out similar initiatives in the UK and the US. But the company is expected to strengthen its efforts as it seeks to electrify all of its new vehicles in core markets by the early 2030s.

Uchida’s renewed focus on carbon neutrality and sustainability initiatives also comes after Japan’s third-largest carmaker projected a return to profitability for the first time in three years. 

Since the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, the company’s former chair, in 2018, the company has implemented a restructuring programme to stem losses and overhauled its governance structure.

While its financial recovery is not complete, Uchida said the progress the company had made allowed management to focus again on longer-term efforts to achieve carbon neutrality. 

In its sustainability report released last week, the company also introduced executive compensation that is tied to environmental and social metrics such as human rights. While measures to incorporate ESG targets in annual executive pay are widespread in the US and Europe, Japanese companies are only now starting to introduce them.

“This year is going to be very important for me,” he said. “We showed this guidance and we have to make sure to deliver it, but at the same time, we want to give a message on our future growth.” 

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