Nissan’s Tavares: Real Electric Cars Don’t Have Tailpipes

By · January 12, 2011

Tavares and Tailpipe

Tavares and tailpipe, captured on video yesterday at the Automotive News Congress.

If you thought the taunting between Nissan and General Motors about which of their plug-in cars is a “real” electric car would end in 2011, think again. Plug-in fans wanting both companies (and others) to succeed with their respective approaches to electrified transportation should not expect the bickering and teasing to end this year—just because both companies are now delivering vehicles to customers.

In the latest repartee, Carlos Tavares, Nissan’s Nissan's executive vice-president of the Americas, offered his version of a litmus test to determine if a car deserves to be called electric—if it has a tailpipe.

Speaking yesterday at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit—the day after the show’s media preview—Tavares said, “As automakers, we have a duty to communicate with clarity to help customers understand today’s technology.” Not missing a beat—and doing nothing to provide clarity for consumers lost in a maze of competing electric models—he held up a muffler and tailpipe and said, “If you’re calling your car electric, and it has one of these, you’re only muddling the message.”

Plug-in hybrids and so-called extended-range electric vehicle, like G.M.'s Chevy Volt, can travel 25 to 50 miles without using any gasoline. But those kinds of plug-ins have a gas engine, muffler and tailpipe that are called into service when the batteries are depleted.

Electrification Obfuscation

Last week, I spoke with Kal Gyimesi, Automotive Lead for the IBM Institute for Business Value, which just published the result of its survey of 1,700 U.S. drivers about electric cars. Among the key findings, he sees clear and honest public education as perhaps the most important step in encouraging mass adoption of electric vehicles. “Forty-five percent of respondents indicated little or not knowledge of electric vehicles,” Gyimesi told me. “That’s a large part of the market saying they don’t understand this product yet.”

When I asked Gyimesi if IBM asked those average buyers if they understood the distinction between pure electric cars without tailpipes and plug-in hybrids (that drive mostly but not all electric), he replied, “Again, 45 percent of the public is still saying that they know very little about EVs, so it’s difficult to bombard them with all the different nuances.”

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
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  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
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