March 26, 2012
Touring Tohoku in a Nissan LEAF
To coincide with CEO Carlos Ghosn’s visit to Nissan’s engine plant in Iwaki on Monday – now more than one year after the disasters of March 2011 – the Global Media Center hired a LEAF electric car to get an on-the-road view of the Tohoku region’s ongoing recovery. Here’s the first installment from our road trip.
March 25, 4pm:
Our journey begins Sunday in the city of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, near the epicenter of last year’s magnitude-9.0 earthquake off Japan’s eastern coast.
Just across the street from the bustling Sendai station, we picked up the Nissan LEAF from the local rental car office and set off on the 200 km to Iwaki, home of a key engine factory. Three guys in the LEAF and a lot of gear—no problem!
Driving along the Tohoku highway, our LEAF’s driving range has dropped to 33 km, so we plan to get off and head for the Nissan Prince dealership in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima prefecture. We arrive with 9 km of energy to spare and enjoy a much-needed coffee, while our LEAF recharges.
It’s dropped below freezing outside.
As we get back on the road to Iwaki, I can’t help thinking that Fukushima prefecture, after a year of frightening headlines, seems remarkably normal. After a break for dinner, we arrive at our hotel, the Onahama Ocean Resort & Golf Club, for some well-earned rest.
March 26, 7am:
It’s a beautiful day in Iwaki as the view from the our hotel. As the name suggests, most of the other guests are here for a round or two of golf or perhaps it’s for the hot springs.
However, rather than hitting the course, we plan to hit the road and head to Nissan’s nearby engine facility. Before we checkout, the hotel staff explain that they were fortunate enough to escape much of last year’s devastation. The major damage was structural, causing a few walls to collapse, closing the hotel for a week. Judging by the queues at the breakfast, business seems to be holding up beyond expectations.
We arrive at the Iwaki plant. Our LEAF’s range is below 20km, so we begin another quick charge at one of the plant’s chargers.
Inside the plant reception area, there are some fascinating symbols of the impact of last year’s events. Among them the first engine produced after production restarted about a month later and a clock that stopped the second the quake hit.
CEO Ghosn begins a tour of the Iwaki plant, initially meeting reporters before small teams of employees give presentations explaining plans to raise efficiency.
The overriding impression is that recovery is no longer the theme in Iwaki: It’s now all about (a) applying lessons learned from 3/11 to future natural disasters should and when they occur wherever in the world; and (b) new ways to improve the engines and production techniques at the 18-year-old site.
Following a “media scrum”, CEO Ghosn joins us for a short video interview where he discusses Iwaki and Japan’s recovery as well as some of the headwinds automakers continue to face in Japan. In particular, the CEO says that while Japan’s strong currency has weakened a little in recent months, it remains a major hurdle.
Our final act at the Iwaki plant is to stream live CEO Ghosn’s “town hall” meeting with employees. Before the meeting kicks off, the CEO and staff pause for a moment of silence to pay respect to Nissan employees and family members who died following the earthquake.
It’s now time to get back into to our rented LEAF and return north to Sendai, once again stopping off at the Nissan dealer for a quick charge. This evening, we’ll check out some of Sendai’s famous gyutan (beef tongue) dishes and prepare for meetings Tuesday, which include an interview with Miyagi Prefecture governor Yoshihiro Murai.
Deputy Editor, Nissan Global Media Center