In the past few months, we’ve produced a steady stream of stories about automaker who are eagerly working on cars which have been colloquially called “Tesla Killers” by many in the industry: one hundred percent electric cars with long-range, great performance, and outstanding quality which we’re told will steal the electric vehicle crown from the head of Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
But while many automakers, including Audi, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and General Motors seem to be gunning for Tesla, desperate to snatch back the customers they have lost to Tesla over the past few years, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says he’s not threatened by Tesla.
In fact Ghosn believes, Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] is not a rival but an ally.
Talking on Saturday with BBCTopGear ahead of the nail-biting final round of the inaugural FIA Formula E race — held over the weekend in Battersea Park, London — Ghosn dismissed suggestions that Renault’s involvement with Formula E meant that we’d soon be seeing high-performance electric cars from the alliance.
“No, we’re going for the heart of the market,” he said. “That’s where there are volume sales.”
Ghosn, who is the CEO of both French automaker Renault and Japanese automaker Nissan thanks to an ongoing alliance between the two firms, recently saw Renault-Nissan sell its 250,000th electric vehicle since the Nissan LEAF debuted in December 2010. While Nissan is responsible for 185,000 of the electric car sales tallied by the alliance thanks to its practical, affordable LEAF hatchback and recently launched e-NV200 electric van, Renault’s electric vehicle offerings — which include the ZOE hatchback, the Kangoo Z.E. commercial vehicle, Fluence Z.E. sedan and funky Twizy urban runabout — have accounted for the remaining 65,000 sales accrued so far.
That’s before you even take into account the Renault SRT-01E electric race car used in this year’s debutant Formula E series, technology from which is already making its way into cars produced by the alliance.
If the Renault-Nissan alliance has brought electric vehicles to the masses however, it’s Californian automaker Tesla Motors which has made electric cars desirable, sexy, and high-performance. With its flagship Tesla Model S P85D — the fastest production sedan on the market — offering the perfect combination of range, performance and style, you might expect Tesla’s plans to bring a more affordable high-performance car to market in the form of the $35,000 Tesla Model ≡ to ruffle Ghosn’s feathers. But Tesla’s market, says Ghosn is a different one.
“We’re happy that other people are going premium — it shows EVs are versatile, and exciting,” he said. “[But] Tesla is not our rival — it is an ally.”
Talking about sales so far, and the healthy growth in electric vehicle market share in recent years, Ghosn said he was impressed with how EV sales for the alliance are up 72 per cent in the year to May 2015. Moving forward, he reiterated the desire to focus on continuing that work.
“We need to sell what we have developed, and sell it well,” he said. “In the future, will we grow our EV offering? For sure, but we will focus on the volume sellers.”
In other words, while other automakers eagerly chase after Tesla’s flagship Model S sedan in an attempt to outperform and outsell the luxury plug-in, Renault-Nissan will put its efforts where it feels the most money can be made: everyday electric vehicles that can slowly take over from gasoline vehicles in a market that is crying out for affordable plug-in vehicles.
Just how low Renault-Nissan can go in terms of price however, remains to be seen. But since both Renault and Nissan have gasoline entry level vehicles below the £10,000 mark, we’d like to see the alliance focus on both reducing the price of its electric cars as well as improving overall range.
If it can do both, then it stands to keep hold of its place as world’s biggest electric automaker.
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