renaultguy.jpg

First up is Carlos Ghosn, Chairman & CEO, Renault S.A. & Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (Disclosure: I drive a Renault Megane)

He’s trying to persuade us that once the car industry was the engine of innovation – and he’s pushing at an open door with that.

“Cars have stopped being perceived as a symbol of modernity,” he says, citing stats that suggest that all over the world car ownership is slipping down the list as a desirable status symbol.

There’s steady, incremental change in the car market – there’s as much intelligence in the new Megane as there was in the first Airbus, he suggests – but no radical change to the concept of the car. And there are challenges: the green agenda, the price of oil and the growing need for individual travel in third world countried. There are 1bn active cars in the world right now, and that will probably grow to 3bn over the next few years. The basic need for autonomous transportation will continue.

Innovation is focusing on ideas like better batteries to make electric cars affordable and practicable – and that’s going to require working with local governments until the point that scale brings costs down. But they’re great: no noise, no smell. “Once you’ve started driving them, you can’t go back,” he says.

€4bn invested in electric cars between Nissan and Renault – but they think it’s necessary. But they’re doing it in the face of scepticism. “Every kind of naysayer,” as Ghosn puts it. “But let us not forget that we are at the beginning of this technology.” He makes a comparison with the early days of mobile phones, with the weight and battery life challenges. Competition drove improvement, and he suggests that exactly the same will happen with cars.

However, he goes on to argue that this is necessary. People want autonomous transport, and other green solutions – like public transport – just aren’t viable as the complete solution because of people’s great desire for this autonomous travel.

And now we’re into the fireside chat with Loïc. He’s talking about the cultural differences you encounter working internationally – the confusion created between the “women first” culture for doors and lifts in Europe against “men first” in Japan…

Loïc’s pushing him on the idea of the car as a platform, something we can build on top of. He showed a video of someone who hacked his car for iPad integration. Ghosn counters with the safety issue – he doesn’t want to facilitate anything that distracts drivers in a car – and causes accidents (and liability, a word which crept out briefly).

A lot of the innovation they create in the lab never makes it to the road, because it needs to be submitted to strenuous safety tests. (I’d like to see him challenged on things like the Ford Sync, which is creating a platform for in-car tools).

They’re shifting as much advertising budget as they can to new platforms – especially mobile. 15% of their budget so far, but Ghosn doesn’t think they’re moving far enough or fast enough in that direction.

Also live blogged by Rachel.