In Europe, diesel has been the dominant automotive fuel for decades because it’s more energy dense and often cheaper than gasoline. But this paradigm is rapidly shifting.
“I mean, for us, diesels are a thing of the past,” said Ivan Espinosa, corporate vice president of global product strategy and planning at Nissan. The automaker is pushing electrification in a big way, “And Europe will be one of the key markets in which this will start taking off very fast,” he added.
The globally popular Leaf electric hatchback has taken off with old-world drivers. “As an example… in Norway, the Nissan Leaf was the best-selling car last year, beating the Volkswagen Golf just to give you a sense of it,” said Espinosa. And that’s the entire Golf range, not just VW’s battery-powered model. “Honestly, we were surprised.”
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This Scandinavian country has generous incentives for electric vehicles, which are spurring sales in a big way, though it’s still surprising the mainstream Leaf is outperforming trendier nameplates like the Tesla Model 3.
Similarly, in Nissan’s home market their Note e-Power small car topped the sales charts in 2018, beating some “hardcore competitors” as Espinosa put it. This model features a hybrid drivetrain with a gasoline engine and electric motor, similar to the propulsion system offered in the now-discontinued Chevrolet Volt.
Back in Europe, the sun is clearly setting on diesels, at least for Nissan. “Probably you will see for the next year and a half, two years still some diesels coming, but the focus is not on diesel anymore,” said Espinosa. “We will be moving much more aggressively on electrification,” which he said includes the introduction of more pure-EVs and e-Power models.
Espinosa said they’re making this dramatic shift because, “The take-rate of diesel is going dramatically down, much faster than what we anticipated.” Adding insult to injury, the resale value of these vehicles is falling well. He attributes this left-right punch to governments restricting vehicle access to major cities, plus the latest European emissions regulations are making compression-ignition engines even more expensive to build and ultimately buy.
Even though the humble diesel’s days appear to be waning, “I think gasoline will remain a significant part of the market,” said Espinosa, at least until electric models become more mainstream, which they are, slowly but surely.
China is an unexpectedly strong market for EVs. Espinosa estimates they account for around 8 or 9 percent of the market, spurred on by various government programs aimed helping clean up the Asian nation’s infamously smoggy air.
Electric vehicles will undoubtedly become more and more popular in the coming years, but not just because of cash incentives or government meddling. “One of the reasons why EVs are probably gradually taking off is not all the customers have been exposed to this technology,” Espinosa said. “And what we are seeing with Leaf is that the retention rate is the biggest we have in the brand, with over 90 percent of the customers (globally) that bought a Leaf staying with a Leaf.” That’s a huge figure and one that seems to indicate electric vehicles are winning.
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