What does the future of Electric Vehicles look like for Nissan? An Interview with Ben Warren
Nissan Australia is ready for the arrival of the new 2023 Nissan LEAF. To mark our continued partnership with Nissan, we sat down with Ben Warren, the National Manager of Electrification and Mobility at Nissan Motor Company in Australia. We took the opportunity to chat all things electric vehicles – industry insights, Australia’s and New Zealand’s EV market, the LEAF models, and the future of electrification for Nissan.
What sparked your interest in electrification?
Well, once you’ve driven [an EV] I think you get it straight away, right? They’re just fun cars to drive – they’re smooth and quiet and responsive and just brilliant in every way – and they’re the future.
What does your career journey look like to get to a significant role within one of the biggest motor companies in the world?
I started in an auto adjacent industry, being tyres, for a couple of years before Nissan. Then I moved across to Nissan, looking after product and I’ve been there ever since, for the last ten years. Coincidently, when I first joined Nissan, the first model that was launched in my time there was the original LEAF, back in 2012. I wasn’t looking after the product at that time, I was looking after sports cars and SUVs. As the market has progressed and the opportunities presented themselves, I got the chance to jump into the electrification portfolio a couple of years ago- just as we were launching the second Gen LEAF into the market and haven’t looked back since.
How do you view the Australian and New Zealand EV market currently but also in the future?
Well, I think it’s probably no secret that Australia is behind the rest of the world, or major markets in the world, so within the global context obviously Europe are leading the charge – pun intended – and then you got other markets that have various degrees of progress. For us in Australia and New Zealand, we have traditionally been a little bit behind. New Zealand have really focused on it and accelerated recently and we’re starting to see that trend happen in that market.
In Australia, we’re seeing a lot of activity in the last year or so. Every state government has launched new or enhanced EV policies; the newly elected federal government are progressing a lot faster than their predecessors. So, yes, we’ve have been behind. Yes, we haven’t moved as fast as other markets, but we now have a real opportunity to start to catch up and learn from those first movers and take the best parts of what’s happened around the world and deploy it in an Australian and New Zealand context.
You’ve seen the evolution quite closely, what do you find are the biggest challenges for EVs in Australia and New Zealand today?
From a customer perspective the traditional barriers for electric vehicles are the same here that they are everywhere else around the world, the upfront purchase price of the car, the range that you can drive, the time it takes to charge, the availability of charging infrastructure. That’s fairly common for every market around the world so, we’re no different in that context. We’re starting to solve those challenges, some of them come with investment in the market- more chargers, more charging stations, those types of things. Some of them is around how we think about our vehicles and our mindsets. The biggest mindset change from a customer perspective is, changing your perspective about your fuelling- fuelling up versus plugging it in when you get home.
What’s your biggest learning from being part of the process of releasing EVs in Australia?
Look, I think that the biggest learning that I’ve seen is around, just working with customers, and understanding concerns, and understanding their needs and where does the product fit. I’ve said previously, probably the single biggest thing with an EV is it starts to challenge some of those ingrained assumptions or behaviours that we’ve unknowingly been conditioned with our whole driving life. So that notion of the petrol station being the most efficient way to fuel my vehicle, understanding the difference between thinking about k’s to a tank, for example.
When we talk about charging and driving range, people traditionally think about their range as, how many kilometres to a tank, because when I go to that petrol station and I fill up my car and when I drive out of there I see 5, 6, 700 kilometres and that’s a good feeling because that represents the longest possible time until I need to come back to this petrol station again. And so, we’ve conditioned ourselves to think that that’s actually what our driving range looks like, or what our requirements are. But in reality, people don’t drive 5 or 600 kilometres in the one stint.
So, with EVs it completely changes the paradigm, and you start thinking about how many k’s to a day as opposed to how many k’s to a tank or to a charge because I don’t have to go anywhere else. When I get home, I can plug in and I can charge, and when I wake up in the morning, my car is full. So, some of those really fundamental assumptions that we’ve never really challenged ourselves with, those are the really interesting learnings.
I grew up on a farm, so when I took this role, my dad, first thing he said was ‘ohh that’s interesting, but it will never work in the bush’ that people just won’t want to drive EVs. And so I drove my LEAF up there, 200kms north. I drove up there, took him for a drive, started talking through charging, I plugged it in and in the morning it was full. And we had that conversation, how is this any different to your car? It sits in that shed 95% of its time and there’s power right there- what do you mean it won’t work? And so now he’s at the pub, sprouting all of the things that we’ve spoken about, and he’s a convert.
What do you see changing regarding transportation and the way we view it?
Look I think that there’s a few different schools of thought when it comes to the evolution of transportation, it’s naturally evolved over time where in most Australian cities and areas, you know, car is king. And certainly, as someone who works for an auto company, I don’t want to be advocating for less cars- you know, we love them! But also, just how we utilise those assets, I think is the really interesting piece. Because, our cars give us freedom, our cars give us flexibility- the reality is they spend the majority of their lives sitting in driveways and car parks. So really, we buy cars to park them, not to drive them, which is really interesting.
So, where I see the evolution is how we can better utilise those assets. Whether it’s through, more shared services and some of those types of things or how do we utilise the assets ourselves? Vehicle to grid is a perfect example, you’ve got a car sitting in your driveway- you can use it to store renewable energy generated off the roof of your house, and then take that energy and power your house later that night. So, you’ve actually got the world’s sexiest battery sitting in your driveway that you can also take to the shops.
So, it’s those types of things that I think will be really interesting for EVs because they give you an awesome car to drive- as I said before- smooth, quiet, comfortable, no exhaust pipe emissions, no tail pipe, and then I can use it to power my house. And I can cut down my fuel bill, I can cut down my energy bill, and the emissions that are associated with those two things. That’s a win.
What type of advancements do you see or would like to see in EVs in the next 5-10 years?
I think one of the interesting things about the auto landscape at the moment is that we’re probably going through the biggest period of transition since the move from the horse and cart. We are seeing changes from the way our cars are powered with electrification options, the way our vehicles are driven with greater levels of autonomy and different driver assistance features, and we’re also seeing a lot of change to the way our cars integrate into our lives with levels of connectivity and really interesting concepts that are unique to EVs- like vehicle to grid, that we see with Nissan LEAFs. I think what we’re going to continue to see is that evolution in powertrains, in safety technologies, in driver assistance technologies and also integration, through seamless integration with our phones and connected and digital lives, but also integration into the physical infrastructure around us. Cars communicating with the energy grid, cars communicating with the built infrastructure like traffic lights, and car parks, and all of those things to make your driving experience so much more enjoyable.
Nissan have just released their new model LEAF- Can you tell us a bit about it and what people can expect from it?
We have the model year 23 (2023) rolling into dealerships around the country. Most of them are already spoken for- we have quite a lot of demand on our EV range at the moment. But the model year 23 is a model year update to the existing LEAF, so structurally a very similar vehicle- some really nice updates and refinements. There’s been some quite nice aerodynamic design changes around the wheels, some changes to the profiles of the bumpers- again to improve aerodynamics. Some styling tweaks, where some previously chrome things are now black to sharpen up the look and freshen it up.
And then in terms of inside the vehicle there’s a couple of new pieces of technology. We’re introducing the smart rear-view mirror- with LEAF being a small hatch, if you have a car full of people it can be quite difficult to see out the back window from your rear-view mirror. The smart rear-view mirror has a camera mounted on the back of the vehicle, so you can actually pick up the feed from that camera. So, if there’s people sitting in the back seat, you can still get a view from behind the car. We’re also picking up the new, what we call ‘canto sound’. One thing about EVs is they’re very quiet- which when you’re driving at low speeds, the vehicle needs to emit some kind of sound to alert pedestrians and other road users that you’re there. So, ‘canto sound’ is the new design of the vehicle sound, which is designed to alert people, be a little bit more noticeable without being too intrusive. That’s a lot of hours spent in sound labs designing that sound and so now we’re rolling it out here.
What is significance of the LEAF model in the Australian market?
The LEAF was the first mass market EV- launching globally in 2010 and 2012 in Australia. The LEAF really broke the mould on what EVs could look like and how they could be accessible to customers…and that’s kind of brought us forward into the evolution of the product today and really set us up for the products of tomorrow. All of those ten years of learning about the market, about customers, about the products themselves- you can’t get that without experience, you can’t get that without doing the miles and walking the journey…so I think it’s been really critical in shaping our thinking on how electrification could and should roll out into the future.
Is there a meaning behind the name LEAF?
Yeah, so LEAF is an acronym, for the original vehicle- which stands for Leading-Environmentally friendly- Affordable- Family friendly. And so that was the ethos of LEAF and that was the genesis of the product, that was what we wanted to achieve with the car and so that seemed fitting to carry over to the actual name.
What is the difference between the LEAF and LEAF e+?
Well, we’ve got two versions of LEAF. We’ve got the LEAF, which is our standard range model and then we also have the LEAF e+ which has a larger battery, and obviously with that comes a little bit more range. We have two options depending on your driving needs to try and provide a few more avenues for people to try and electrify their life.
How far can the LEAF e+ travel on a single charge?
The e+ will get you 385 kilometres real-world driving distance, that’s fairly achievable. I’m driving a current model e+ at the moment and am able to get those sorts of distances out of it. But of course, like the brochure says it depends on driving conditions and ambient temperatures and all of these different things but, 385 (kms) is the indicative driving range.
What other Nissan vehicles do you think, fingers crossed, might come our way?
So, we’ve got a couple of really exciting development coming out. Firstly, in the full EV space we have the Nissan Ariya- which is a C-sized SUV, a medium SUV that is gorgeous. Very nice, doesn’t have a bad angle to it, luxuriously appointed, amazing drivetrain, amazing technology and that’s just gone on sale on a couple of key global markets. So, we’ve launched into Japan, it’s just gone on sale in Europe, US is later this year. And so that’s a product that we would love to see in Australia, and (we) keep pushing our case to see that vehicle here because it is stunning.
The other exciting electrification pathway that we’re working on as well- is we have a technology called e-POWER, and e-POWER is specifically for customers who have some challenges with range anxiety or charging infrastructure. So, what it is, is a vehicle that’s powered exclusively by an electric motor and battery, but it has an onboard petrol engine to charge the battery. So, it drives like an EV in terms of smooth responsiveness and those types of things because all of the power is delivered to the wheels from that electric motor, but you don’t have to plug it in. That’s a gateway, that’s a bridge to the ultimate goal which is full electrification. And we see it as a pretty powerful tool because it gives you all the drivability and the sensation of driving an EV but specifically if you cannot install charging in your home or you need longer range. It’s kind of that bridging technology that’ll be around for the next couple of years to help ease you into the idea of a full EV. So, we hope that once you’ve been in an e-POWER, your next car will be a full electric.
What makes JET Charge a great charging infrastructure partner for Nissan?
Well, I think we’ve really enjoyed working with the team at JET Charge, who have supported us from the preparations of launching the second-generation LEAF back in 2019. I n 2018, we were preparing to kit up our dealerships and JET Charge were instrumental in helping us get ready to launch LEAF into the market by kitting out our EV dealer network with charging infrastructure, all the way through with providing the charging solutions for our customers. Having a program and having a process in place for our dealers to be able to confidently offer customers charging solutions and know that they will be professionally installed and competitive. That’s been a really critical piece to the customer journey for us. I think the thing that we’ve found- we’ve grown together and worked on these processes and developed them, on both sides, to offer a really slick and comprehensive service to the Nissan customers today, which has been an absolute pleasure in rolling out.
On behalf of JET Charge, thank you for your partnership. We’re proud to have been along the journey with Nissan from the get-go and we look forward to an electric future, together.
Bring on more EVs!
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