There are only two big traditional automaker groups that I consider neutral in relation to electric cars. They are Renault-Nissan and BMW. All the other are adverse towards electric cars, either by action or inaction. The Volkswagen’s case is curious and sometimes ridiculous, the company is the press release world champion when it comes to announce future electric cars, but behind closed doors the company tries its best to block legislation that favors electric cars. The funny thing about the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Volkswagen is that I always associate them with the Star Wars Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, it’s not difficult to know which one is who…
Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance considers himself neutral towards electric cars, he doesn’t want to make the electric revolution, but he wants to be prepared when it happens. The almost 400.000 paid reservations for the Tesla Model 3 makes it clear, Tesla Motors is the automaker that leads the revolution, every other will follow or become obsolete. Within the followers the Alliance is the group which is clearly better prepared for the transition, since the Leaf is already built in USA, UK, Japan and China (Venucia e30).
Ghosn’s lectures are very interesting, not only because he’s actually a sincere guy and speaks his mind, but he’s also a great strategist. It’s easy to understand what he wants and what he’ll do to make it happen.
I actually find these lectures very amusing, I watch and rewatch them while eating popcorn. But if you don’t want to watch them completely I’ll give you the highlights:
Tokyo Motor Show
- Premium electric cars are a niche and Tesla Motors is already doing a good job, the Alliance’s focus will remain the mass market.
- Ghosn says that the crossover/SUV market is getting more popular, so we might see electric versions of Nissan Juke or Renault Captur in 2017.
2016 Detroit motor show
- Over-the-air (OTA) software updates will become more usual for economic reasons.
- Zero emission vehicles will become the norm regardless of what consumers want, because that’s where regulators are aiming for. The same thing happened with diesel in Europe where diesel cars were highly supported by the Governments.
- Localization of the car production is key to sell it at a competitive price. The premise is very simple, “build where you sell”. The Nissan Leaf is already produced in four factories around the world.
- Electric car’s problems are not technological, technology is already advanced enough to completely replace internal combustion engine (ICE) cars if the regulators want to. The problem is the “marketability” of the technology. Costs need to be reduced to balance what regulators want and what the consumer is ready to pay for.
- Electrification of vehicles is happening, whether you like it or not. Yes Sergio Marchionne, CEO of FCA, this one was for you.
- Upcoming electric cars from Google and Apple are only seen as a risk if you aren’t ready to make electric cars. Again, this one was for you Sergio…
- Nissan hasn’t problems with buying batteries from new suppliers. LG Chem, Panasonic/Sanyo and Samsung SDI make your move.
- Nissan Leaf is getting improvements before the new generation arrival. The Chevrolet Bolt will not be left without competition.
- Range anxiety is only solved with a widespread and visible charging infrastructure. Nevertheless more range and faster charging are coming. Ghosn says that the fast charging time will be reduced from 30 to 10 minutes.
- Nissan and BMW are building an electric fast charging network in some states of the USA. Visible infrastructure already resulted in increased sales of electric cars in those areas, even if state incentives to buy were dropped. Nissan actions towards charging station networks varies from country.
- To effectively reduce emissions the Alliance relies in mass market cars, premium electric cars aren’t in its plans.
2016 Automotive News World Congress
No electric car planned for Infiniti, the focus is the mass market with the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe, not premium.
2016 NYIAS Opening Breakfast
- Electric cars are the only solution to the problem of global warming.
- Governments should focus in the charging infrastructure improvement while automakers should focus in costs reduction to lower the prices of electric cars.
Media Roundtable Session 2016 NYIAS
- The next logical step to reduce emissions is to introduce cheaper electric cars, especially in China and India.
- Infiniti isn’t getting an electric car in the near time. To reduce emissions the mass market is the one that needs to be electrified first, only then come luxury cars.
- Electric cars have priority, hybrids and plug-in hybrids are relegated to a minor role in future products.
- Weak charging infrastructure and high prices are electric car’s biggest obstacles.
- Simpler and cheaper electric cars are going to be made for China and India.
- Google, Apple or other technological companies developing electric cars is good because they create more visibility for this young market.
All the lectures lead to this:
- The only solution for the emission problem is the electric car.
It’s curious that most of the questions made to Ghosn were about electric and autonomous cars. The Alliance is now seen as a high tech group, just as Toyota once was when it pushed hybrid cars. It’s sad to see Toyota having an insignificant role in electric cars.
The strategy is very simple and logic. For the massification of electric cars the priorities are a widespread and visible charging infrastructure and lower prices, also important but in a lower scale is better range and faster charging. But where are we now?
The Alliance clearly needs to step up its game, the year to date results aren’t good.
The most sold plug-in car in the USA is the Tesla Model S, that Ghosn considers to be in a niche market, while the Nissan Leaf that is considered a mass market car is in fifth place.
In Europe, the Nissan Leaf is relegated to third place. But at least the most sold plug-in car title is in the family with the Renault Zoe being the number one. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the number two.
The upcoming Chevrolet Bolt and the recently improved BMW i3 are the most direct competitors to the Alliance’s electric cars. With the right price, the Renault Zoe R400 and the facelifted Nissan Leaf shouldn’t have much problems getting the top positions of the most sold plug-in cars. The range provided by the 40 kWh batteries is enough in most cases, especially with the increasing number of public charging stations. While 60 kWh batteries are great, the more affordable and lighter 40 kWh batteries provide a great balance between range, cost and efficiency.
It’s very likely that the Renault Zoe R400 will have 100 kW fast charging capability with the CCS standard, the same isn’t true for the facelifted Leaf. Charging at 100 kW will only be possible if Nissan starts using a TMS (thermal management system). Dropping the CHAdeMO in the USA and Europe in favor of the CCS standard is also a strong possibility.
One thing is clear, Nissan is well prepared to regain the leadership. The company already produces the Nissan Leaf in four different locations around the world, it has the high volume production capacity advantage that no other has yet. It’s time to increase production and drop the prices.