Ghosn: Renault-Nissan Working On New Low-Price, Low-Spec Electric Cars Alongside Pushing High-Spec, Longer-Range Models

As global weather patterns get more extreme and our planet already teetering on the edge of hitting the dangerous 1.5-degree celsius global warming threshold at which manmade global warming could have irreversible effects, time is rapidly running out for society to make the switch from fossil fuels to clean, renewable sources of energy. From the way we power our homes to the type of fuel our cars use, we all need to make the switch as soon as possible.

For those who can afford to, electric cars like the Nissan LEAF, Renault ZOE, BMW i3, Ford Focus Electric and Volkswagen e-Golf (to name a few) make it possible to switch away from gasoline already, providing zero emissions travel when paired with electricity produced from a renewable energy source like solar, wind or wave. With an average range of around 100 miles per charge however, these cars are dismissed by many buyers — rightly or wrongly — as not having the range needed to be a family’s primary transportation. Meanwhile, cars like the Tesla Model S and Model X, while suitably long-range, are simply too expensive for many to buy.

Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says Nissan is working on a more affordable EV for China.

Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says Nissan is working on a more affordable EV for China.

As a consequence, we’ve seen a flurry of automakers in recent months promising new cars in the next few years that will combine 200+ miles of real-world range with an ‘affordable’ price tag somewhere between $35,000 and $40,000 before incentives. These cars, including the Tesla Model 3, Chevrolet Bolt EV and next-generation Nissan LEAF, will certainly encourage more people to make the switch from gasoline and diesel-power to electric vehicles. But like today’s current electric cars, they’ll be sold with a sticker price which will make it hard for many average people to afford, even in reasonably affluent countries like the U.S.

And as everyone, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk agrees, for humanity to effectively avoid global catastrophe at the hands of man-made global warming, we all need to switch from fossil fuels to sustainable, renewable sources of power, both for our commercial and domestic power requirements as well as for our transportation. To do that, we need affordable renewable energy sources as well as affordable clean transportation solutions.

Ghosn says there's a place for both long-and short range EVs.

Ghosn says there’s a place for both long-and short range EVs.

Which is one of the reasons Renault-Nissan, alongside its Chinese automotive partner Dongfeng is readying a whole new slew of  new electric cars for the everyday man and woman on the street. Lower specification and more affordable than cars like the upcoming next-generation Nissan LEAF, they won’t be able to travel as far on a charge but they will be far more affordable, making electric cars more of a reality for millions of people.

That’s according to Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn during an interview earlier today with Bloomberg at the Beijing Auto Show.

Discussing both the booming Chinese car market and the global automotive market, Ghosn talked freely during the eight-minute interview about the alliance’s plans to adjust its Asian market offerings and the ongoing emissions scandal which is now embroiling more and more automakers. At the same time, he called for more transparency from both automakers and governments over just how emission tests are carried out. But it was towards the end of the interview when the discussion moved to electric cars that Ghosn hinted Renault-Nissan is preparing a whole new type of electric vehicle for market, one which would be far more affordable.

“What’s selling today in China are very low-priced EVs, that’s what is selling. ” Ghosn said when asked about low sales figures for chinese electric cars. “It means that we need to continue to have the kind of high-spec EV, increasing the range and lowering the cost. That’s from one side. But this market did not take off yet in China. I believe it will.

Nissan's partner Dongfeng will work with Nissan on a more affordable EV.

Nissan’s partner Dongfeng will work with Nissan on a more affordable EV.

“Then you have a second part of the market which is selling today which is the low spec EV,” he continued. “Low spec, low price EV. So we are going to compete on both…We have a product on the high spec EV. We need to continue to fine tune it, but at the same time we need to bring a product into the low spec, low price EV. And for this we will be working with our partner Dongfeng and we’ll soon be present in this market.”

When asked if the transition to electricity will be a revolution that will cost millions of dollars, Ghosn was emphatic about the challenges facing the automotive industry.

“I don’t think this is a revolution. It’s a normal evolution. And that’s why this industry is consolidating. In order to make these kind of investments you need some kind of scale,” he said. “I think everything we’re seeing is pushing for more consolidation within the industry.”

Referring to electric cars as a necessity for both the industry and the world looking forward, Ghosn was quick to note that electric cars are “absolutely necessary” if automakers want to meet ever-tightening CO2 emissions limits around the world. Given China is now the world’s largest polluter as a nation (although not as the world’s largest polluter per capita: that award goes to the UAE) it seems sensible that Renault-Nissan is seeking to cater to as many Chinese buyers as possible with a range of new electric cars.

Unlike owners of fossil-fuelled cars, which must pay upwards of $3,000 to obtain a license plate under China’s vehicle lottery scheme, many parts of China offer free license plates to electric cars, making them a far more attractive proposition for the nation’s rapidly expanding middle class.

Even this terrible Chinese clone of the Model S has a role to play.

Even this Chinese clone of the Tesla Model S has a role to play.

What of the massive coal-fired energy economy in China, the one that we’re often told in the west is responsible for China’s notoriously poor city center air quality? If electric cars are powered from a fossil-fuel rich power mix, some would argue there’s little benefit to Renault-Nissan investing so much time and money in the Chinese market.

Luckily though, just as China’s attitude towards electric cars is rapidly changing, so too is its energy power mix. While coal consumption in China during 2015 accounted for 64 percent of total energy consumption, it fell by 3.7 percent over previous years. Moreover, during 2015 there was a massive boom in grid-connected solar power, growing 73.7 percent last year alone, reaching 43.18 gigawatts of installed capacity. Grid-connected wind grew by 33.5 percent, reaching an installed capacity of 129.34 gigawatts.

As for the rest of the world? While many readers may complain that an electric car that can’t manage more than 100 miles per charge is of no use to them in their daily lives, we’re hopeful that low-priced, lower-spec electric cars can penetrate the market too. As Ford has already hinted, there’s a market for affordable electric cars for millions of car drives around the world who never need to travel more than 100 miles per day. As long as such a car is sensibly priced, can manage highway speeds and has the safety features it needs to protect its occupants, we’d welcome such a car on the global stage.

Until there’s an affordable electric car for everyone and a clean way to power it, we’re not going to win the global warming battle. And at the end of the day, making the switch to electricity trumps any preconceptions we may have about needing a car that’s bigger, better, longer, or faster, because our very existence depends on it.

Choice is key.

[Hat-Tip: Brian Henderson]


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  • Chris O

    I can see how low cost, but also low range EVs could work in China, but I wonder about the market potential of the 100 mile EVs that companies like Ford and Hyundai have announced in more affluent markets where 200+ miles plus comprehensive quick charge support has become the norm. Well for, Tesla drivers at least.

    The price would have to make the difference but Tesla’s experience is that people would line up for the 265 mile S/85 while the $20K cheaper 160 mile S/40 had to be discontinued for lack of demand. Looks like people really want the range.

    The struggle to sell 80 mile compliance cars even in low numbers vs people lining up for Model 3 is another indication that range is the ticket to commercial success.

    • Martin Lacey

      I think you’re quite right Chris… at least until the charging network is more reliable and widespread.

      • Chris O

        The staggering success of Model 3 indicates that people want both the range ánd the comprehensive quick charge network so practicality starts to approach regular cars, even on the occasional longer trip. So I expect even the 200 mile but no quick charge support/limited quick charge capability (40%/30 minutes) Bolt to sell an on order of magnitude less than Model 3 (also based on the numbers GM is gearing up for)and the proposed 100 mile EVs only in even more marginal numbers at prices that can move the metal in the minimum numbers needed to comply.

    • Michael Thwaite

      I agree that high range brings in the buyers – how many people have you met that discount EVs on range? It’s as though the other advantages – price, performance, refinement and environmental stewardship are fine but, I have to have every attribute beat out ICE to make the purchase.

      Once in the fold though, I can see people picking up a second or third EV that fits the need – I have no desire to equip my son with a 200 mile EV when a 60-80 mile unit gets him all 11 miles to college and back every day for $125/month.

      He can borrow the P90DL if he needs to go further occasionally… and if I had one of course.

      • Chris O

        I do agree that the modest range EVs should work fine in multi car households. Not all households are multi car though of course and I do believe that the runaway success of Model 3 compared to the low range EV indicates that even households that do own multiple cars just want more range anyway.

        Generally: is it really good enough for a car to have enough range to make your average trip? It’s a bit like having your feet in the freezer and your head in the oven: on average you’re pretty comfortable, but fact is: the extremes do matter. I think that’s how people shop for their cars too.

  • Not only the range and price counts, more important is the post sell service.
    In Israel Renault’s authorized dealer has recently declared that they will no longer honor the warrantee on the battery
    (even though some cars still have 2 years left).
    Until recently they changed batteries with SOH < 0.75,
    but suddenly they stopped it without any explanation.