As car manufacturers scramble for dominance in the competitive electric-vehicle market and more governments commit to fuel economy targets and fossil fuel car bans, Nissan and its partner Renault indicate they won’t willingly cede their early lead to younger companies grabbing attention in the EV space.
The Nissan-Renault Alliance unveiled its newest Leaf earlier this month, featuring a 40 percent range increase and vehicle-to-grid capability. Then on Friday, the Alliance touted a new corporate strategy that includes producing 12 new all-electric cars over the next five years.
“The big guys are going to have a big advantage in this situation,” Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of the Nissan-Renault Alliance, told Bloomberg News as the company unveiled its Alliance 2022 plan on Friday.
Renault and Nissan are banking on their EV edge coming in part from uniformity. In 2013, the alliance began its Common Module Family approach to shared architecture that cuts across car platforms -- claiming 30 to 40 percent reductions in entry cost per model. By 2022, common construction will make up 70 percent of the Alliance’s sales. According to the two companies, 70 percent of EV production will also use common platforms by that same year.
The five-year plan places “reinforcing electric vehicle leadership” at the top of its list. In addition to making 12 new, completely electric cars, Nissan-Renault plans to achieve a 30 percent decrease in battery costs by 2022, and produce a car with 600 kilometers (nearly 373 miles) of range by the same year.
Since Nissan introduced the Leaf in 2010, newer manufacturers like Tesla have held the spotlight and prompted questions about whether the Nissan-Renault Alliance can compete. Though the Alliance has sold more than half a million plug-in vehicles around the globe to date, Tesla Model S sales have dominated the Leaf in the U.S. market this year. Until recently, Nissan had been quiet about its next steps.
In January, Ghosn sought to assuage doubts that his company is relinquishing leadership on EVs in a meeting with press at CES, the annual consumer electronics show held in Las Vegas.
“The fact that we are extremely conservative in our communication about what’s coming is because we are actually present on the market and we are selling cars," he said. "We just want to make sure that the cars we’re putting on the market can compete."
He added that Nissan is proud to have pioneered the EV in 2010. “Back then, our competition said it would never work," Ghosn said. "Today, almost all of them have plans to try...to catch up to us. But they have a long way to go.”
With the roll-out of the 2018 model, market watchers will see if Leaf sales can catch up to those of Tesla and General Motors. The new Leaf comes with a 40 kilowatt-hour battery pack that gives the car a range of around 150 miles, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. The company plans to release a slightly longer range “e-Plus” version with more than 200 miles of range in 2019.
The relatively affordable price tag for the 2018 model -- $29,990 in the U.S. -- might make the Leaf's shorter range viable against longer-range, but costlier, alternatives. Other features include a new exterior design and a semi-autonomous driving feature, which nods at the self-driving innovations Nissan-Renault plans to make a larger part of its business as the Alliance looks to 2022.
"While [EV] range grabs headlines, quality also matters -- and proven Nissan is still ahead of the pack," said Ghosn in January. "We are not backing off."