Back in 2009, Mitsubishi became the first automaker for an entire generation to bring an all-electric mass-produced car to the market when it began fleet sales of its tiny four-seat i-Miev to customers in Japan. Then it became the first electric car to go on sale in Europe, months ahead of rivals like the Nissan LEAF.
For several months, even years, Mitsubishi held the keys to the electric car revolution. Then tough competition from better equipped, more capable EVs caused its sales to plummet. So far this year, Mitsubishi has sold just 1006 i-Miev cars in the U.S., and sales in Europe aren’t much better.
But could a new partnership with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, two of the automakers responsible for stealing Mitsubishi’s brief EV crown from its head, save Mitsubishi’s plug-in reputation?
Believe it or not, we think it could. But before we tell you why, it’s worth taking a few minutes to explain the relationships between automotive companies.
An introduction to automaker relationships
As any automotive insider will testify, many car makers who openly jostle for sales supremacy in the marketplace also work together in complex, multinational technology partnerships designed to share mutually-beneficial technologies and car designs.
Sometimes, these partnerships are informal, fleeting affairs, with one automaker providing a service to another for a specific vehicle part or technology for a limited length of time. Other times they are far more structured, with automakers forming partnerships where each company takes a reciprocal share holding in the other.
The joint partnership between French automaker Renault and Japanese automaker Nissan is one such relationship: Nissan and Renault’s partnership is so intertwined that each holds a substantial share in the other, their corporate headquarters in the UK are on the same site, and they even share a single CEO, Carlos Ghosn.
Renault-Nissan… and Mitsubishi
It is thanks to this partnership that both automakers have become leaders in the electric car market, with Renault and Nissan enjoying a long-term collaborative relationship on plug-in car technology. But now, Mitsubishi — who has held a long-standing collaborative microcar and commercial vehicle partnership with Nissan in its home market of Japan — has announced that it is expanding its relationship with Nissan into the electric car segment as well as striking up a new collaboration with Renault in both the electric and non-electric car segment.
For now the tie-up with Mitsubishi remains purely collaborative rather than financial, but the three companies have already said Renault will provide Mitsubishi with several mid-sized sedans to market in the U.S. as rebadged Mitsubishi models, while the trio has said they intend to work together to develop and build a new, global small car platform with which to introduce an all-new electric car to the market.
Covering the bases
Renault has four electric vehicles on the market, while Mitsubishi currently makes two plug-in cars. Nissan meanwhile, is readying its second plug-in vehicle — the eNV200 — for production next year.
Together, the three companies not only represent a massive section of the plug-in vehicle market, but span several key segments, from the tiny Renault Twizy city car through the Mitsubishi i-Miev and Renault Zoe subcompact market, the Nissan LEAF and Renault Fluence ZE mid-size family cars through to the Renault Kangoo ZE and eNV200 plug-in commercial vehicles to Mitsubishi’s Outlander Plug-in Hybrid.
Moreover, by joining forces, the three automaker should not only benefit from each other’s technological know-how, but also the consequences of being able to purchase bulk orders of components essential for EV production, such as battery cells and rare-earth metals contained therein. And since the partnership appears to be focused primarily on EV technology and development, we can only expect good things from Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi in the future.
A Mitsubishi-badged Renault EV?
We’re keen not to second-guess what the impact of this new tie-up will be, we can’t help if this latest announcement means the Renault Zoe is heading to the US as a rebadged Mitsubishi, perhaps as an alternative for the poorly-selling i. Since Renault hasn’t sold in the U.S. since the mid 1980s, it makes sense for Renault to be rebadged as the more familiar Mitsubishi.
While it isn’t as large as the Nissan LEAF — a car considered small by many Americans — the Renault Zoe probably wouldn’t sell well outside of suburbia.
But with seating for five, hot-hatch looks and a stylish interior, we think a Mitsubishi-badged Zoe — with modified on-board charger for the U.S. market — could place Mitsubishi in a powerful position in the growing subcompact and minicar segments currently dominated by cars like the Fiat 500 and Ford Fiesta.
What do you think the consequences of the struggling Mitsubishi joining the Renault-Nissan alliance will be? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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