The Auto Industry ‘Has to Move' on Electrification as Consumers Become More Conscious, Nissan CEO Says

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  • Nissan recently announced its goal to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and plans to electrify 100% of its new vehicles on offer by the early 2030s.
  • In 2020, market research firm Fortune Business Insights valued the electric vehicle industry at around $250 billion.
  • "There is a business imperative," for more sustainable operations, Zurich Insurance CEO Mario Greco told CNBC.

Sustainability has made its way onto the dashboard of many company executives, and the money is set to follow — particularly in the electric vehicle space, if investment trends and research and development commitments are anything to go by.

"ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) has become a priority for our industry, not only for the long -term impact of the emissions but also ... quality of the governance issue," Nissan CEO Makoto Uchida told CNBC's "Street Signs Europe" Tuesday. 

"And ESG has a significant impact on how we, carmakers, do our business. Of course for the past couple of decades industry has come under considerable pressure from government and society to be more sustainable, but dealing with a more conscious consumer," Uchida said, has prompted "more emphasis on areas like electrification, autonomy and connectivity, which I think the industry has to move on."

Nissan recently announced its goal to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and plans to electrify 100% of its new vehicles on offer by the early 2030s. The fully electric Nissan Leaf hit 500,000 units in sales in 2020, a car that the company has been producing since 2010.

Investment into EVs and EV components appears to be on a runway. California-based investment firm Wedbush believes EV stocks could climb as high as 50% this year, stressing that there's room in the market for more than just Tesla. And in 2020, market research firm Fortune Business Insights valued the EV industry at around $250 billion.

EV components and materials are also set to gain. Goldman Sachs in a February note highlighted six EV battery specialists with significant potential upside.  

'There is a business imperative'

For Mario Greco, CEO of Zurich Insurance and a founding member of CNBC's ESG Council, there really isn't any other option but to pursue ESG solutions in the face of climate change. 

"There is a business imperative," Greco told CNBC. "The most important thing is to work on prevention. Insuring again the climate risk, it is expensive and it will become more expensive." 

Zurich Insurance has set new climate targets for its investments and operations as it seeks to become a net zero emissions business by 2050.

"We need to transform the industrial sector and transform our societies," the CEO said. "And insurance can support this transformation — the thing insurance cannot do is to pay just the damages of the climate transformation. But the transformation of the industrial sectors and the transformation of the way we live today is something that we will be living and we will be happy to continue pushing forward."

Insuring against climate risk will be a major challenge as weather events become more extreme; what's necessary in this context is "work on prevention and work on transforming these risks into different business models," Greco said.

But none of this means fossil fuels are going away anytime soon; in fact, demand for fossil fuels is set to rise significantly in the coming years as urban populations continue to boom. 

To counter that, Greco said, "I think we need to embed the carbon cost into the pricing mechanism — today the pricing does not affect the final price of any good we buy. We have to fully embed that in the cost of the goods and that will speed up and facilitate the transformation of the oil industries."

—CNBC's Sam Shead contributed to this report.

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