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Tesla’s Model 3 has already overtaken Nissan’s Leaf as the best-selling electric vehicle of all time. But the boss of the Japanese electric vehicle pioneer says his company is keeping a head start in one crucial area: giving a second life to car batteries that have passed their prime.
Makoto Uchida, Nissan boss, told the Financial Times in an interview that the company wanted to expand its know-how in collecting lithium-ion batteries from old leafs worldwide. The batteries will be reused to store renewable energy in 7-Eleven convenience stores and to power level crossings and delivery robots in factories.
Such technologies to extend battery life and recycle materials are expected to present a major challenge for the automotive industry in electrifying their fleets.
“In the coming days there will be a lot of discussion about how we should take care of the entire eco-balance of the electric vehicle,” said Uchida. “Nissan put its energy into recycling long before the public debate on the matter began.”
Since the vehicle was launched in 2010, Nissan has sold more than 530,000 Leafs.
“Tesla, Volkswagen and others are introducing electric cars, but they are still a long way from getting batteries,” said Joji Tagawa, Nissan’s chief sustainability officer, in a separate interview. “We have a lot of return batteries and have tried a lot to see which battery is used for which purpose.”
Through 4R Energy, a joint venture between Nissan and trading house Sumitomo, founded the same year that Leaf was founded, the automaker has explored various ways to reuse batteries so that they can be used to generate renewable energy in homes and buildings, as well as for Emergency electricity can be used during natural disasters. The Leaf itself is made from materials that are 99 percent 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 US. However, the company is expected to step up efforts to electrify all of its new vehicles in its core markets by the early 2030s.
Uchida’s renewed focus on carbon neutrality and sustainability initiatives also comes after Japan’s third-largest automaker forecast a return to profitability for the first time in three years.
Since the arrest of former CEO Carlos Ghosn in 2018, the company has implemented a restructuring program to contain losses and overhauled its governance structure.
Although the financial recovery is still ongoing, Uchida said the company’s progress has allowed management to focus again on longer-term efforts to achieve carbon neutrality.
In its sustainability report published last week, the company also introduced executive compensation that is linked to environmental and social indicators such as human rights. While measures to incorporate ESG goals into annual executive compensation are widespread in the US and Europe, Japanese companies are only just beginning to adopt them.
“This year is going to be very important for me,” he said. “We have shown these guidelines and we need to make sure they are delivered, but at the same time we want to send a message for our future growth.”
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