Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn: Tesla is an Ally, Not a Rival

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.

Talking to BBC Top Gear, Carlos Ghosn said Tesla is an ally not a rival in the electric car world.

Talking to BBC Top Gear, Carlos Ghosn said Tesla is an ally not a rival in the electric car world.

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.

The Renault-Nissan alliance is responsible for the world's best-selling electric car: the Nissan LEAF.

The Renault-Nissan alliance is responsible for the world’s best-selling electric car: the Nissan LEAF.

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.”

Renault-Nissan will continue to focus on affordable electric cars aimed at everyday consumers.

Ghosn: Renault-Nissan will continue to focus on affordable electric cars aimed at everyday consumers.

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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  • jeffsongster

    Glad to see Mr Ghosn is not threatened by Tesla. Why should he be… just like Mr. Musk, he has gotten the jump on the rest of the field. They were both willing to commit fully to the notion that EVs are our future.

    The next step for Renault/Nissan, in my, never really all that, humble opinion is to offer the EV powertrain in as many bodies as they can cram it into. This will further amortize the investments in powertrains and infrastructure they have mades so far and increase the perceptions about just how normal these vehicles can be in our world.

    The eNV200 will be huge here in the states… especially with the anticipated larger, denser batteries.
    A dual motor Frontier pickup truck with a 36kWh battery and light towing capabilities would be a smash hit!
    Can’t wait for the next round of EVs… they seem about to go mainstream.

    • Joe Viocoe

      “A dual motor Frontier pickup truck with a 36kWh battery and light towing capabilities would be a smash hit!”

      Yes, but perhaps a range extender option on that. An 80 mile Truck still won’t be accepted by the country folk.

      • jeffsongster

        I do local deliveries in the SF bay area. 100 miles would be ok… 150 better. If I could drive 125 miles.. break for lunch and recharge and do another 100 miles working my way back to the office… that would suffice. SO…. when 200 mile batteries are available… offer them across the entire product line if possible.

        • Joe Viocoe

          You’ll need a good fast charging network too then.

  • Richard Glover

    Certainly agree with jeffsongster.
    Where the UK is concerned I think Nissan should offer to build RHD Teslas at Sunderland

    • vdiv

      Or since they are considered an ally how about using Tesla drivetrains/batteries to finally make the Infiniti LE?

  • Interesting that Tesla and Nissan look primed to meet in the middle somewhat soon, though. Tesla’s Model 3 and NIssan’s expanded-range LEAF might be more similar to each other than many of other companies’ “Tesla killers” will be to the Model S. Glad that Ghosn recognizes that even with this reality on the horizon, EVs are aiming to take market share away from ICE cars, rather than assume that they are fighting only among themselves over the currently-small electric market.

  • lad76

    The sweet spot for volume sales are the family sedans; not the small Leaf or the i3 or the eGolf or the Bolt. You know EVs are in when you see the Accord, Camry, Altima, Passat, Fusion, and Malibu with all electric drive and traction batteries. That’s a long ways off yet; however, an honest 200 mile Leaf would be most welcome and should sell like donuts sell to cops.

    • That might be true in the U.S., but here in Europe, if it’s not a hatchback people aren’t interested. It’s either a hatchback or a wagon. 🙂

  • Marcel

    Will he still consider Tesla an ally when the Model III will hit the market?

  • CDspeed

    Gotta love Ghosn, I like CEOs that don’t try to crush the little guy, I guess that is one reason I don’t like Toyota as a company. Instead of proving their product, they’ve gone the dived and concur route.

  • Chris O

    Ghosn is joining GM here, dismissing Tesla as a premium carmaker that is just not fishing in the same pond. Model 3 will be a very direct rival for both the Bolt and mark2 Leaf though and with Tesla’s massive efforts and vision behind it it might well eat their lunch.

    Of course Ghosn is well aware of that, that’s just not how one communicates one’s challenges.

  • Daniel Zamir

    Even with the model 3 there is enough market for more than one leading EV maker. If you actually believe EVs could be good enough to be mainstream, this is a 100M cars a year market. No company can build that much fast enough.