Six years ago yesterday, Japanese automaker Nissan delivered its first LEAF electric car. Almost a year later to the day, French automaker Renault delivered its first Renault ZOE electric car.
Despite having a mutual majority shareholding in one another under the longstanding Renault-Nissan alliance — and having a joint goal of achieving a combined half-million electric car sales total by 2013 — the two companies have kept their electric vehicle development programs largely separate. For example, while Renault relied on LG Chem for the battery packs used in its ZOE, Nissan built its own lithium-ion cells in-house through a partnership with NEC Corp, something that became painfully apparent earlier this year when Renault announced a brand-new, 40 kilowatt-hour pack upgrade for the 2017 Renault ZOE, leaving the 2017 Nissan LEAF far behind in the electric vehicle range charts.
In some ways, it seemed to make sense for the two companies to develop very different electric cars. Alongside allowing the Renault-Nissan alliance to compare and contrast the technology in each (CHadeMO vs AC quick charging, or battery rental vs battery purchase, for example), developing the two cars separately allowed for the Renault-Nissan alliance to cater to a wider global market. The ZOE, for example, is technically a supermini (sub-compact), while the Nissan LEAF is a compact car, one class larger than the ZOE.
But while the current Nissan LEAF and Renault ZOE have very little in common with one another, the Renault-Nissan alliance has decided to pool resources for future versions of the ZOE and LEAF, building a brand-new platform that both vehicles will share. This would not only save costs at the two companies, but potentially either shrink the LEAF down in size or (more likely) turn the ZOE from a subcompact into a compact.
That’s according to Arnaud Deboeuf, the senior vice president of Renault-Nissan BV, who told Automotive News Europe (subscription required) that the Renault-Nissan alliance is working on a new common platform that it will launch some time in the next four years to underpin future electric cars from Renault and Nissan.
Details at the current time are sparse, but French media reports suggest that the new platform will debut with a new Renault Zoe some time between 2018 and 2020. Importantly, this means that the new shared platform won’t be released in time for the upcoming 2018 Nissan LEAF, which is believed to have a 60 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack for a real-world range in excess of 200 miles per charge.
Interestingly in its report, Automotive News Europe referred to the 2018 LEAF as nothing more than a “Leaf facelift”. Given that the LEAF is now six years old and ready to be retired for a second-generation model, we’re skeptical this is the case. Even if it came with a 60 kilowatt-hour, 200+ mile battery pack, we think the original LEAF looks a little long in the tooth.
Instead, we think a more likely scenario is for Nissan to build a new next-generation 2018 LEAF on the same chassis and platform as the existing LEAF, but with revised drivetrain, completely new body and larger-capacity battery pack. As Deboeuf himself notes in his Automotive News Europe interview, the decision to develop a new platform takes place about ten years before that platform is seen underpinning a production vehicle. Even if Renault-Nissan has been working together on such a platform for a few years, it would take several more before it was ready to underpin a new vehicle.
And with the electric vehicle marketplace moving at an astonishing rate — and Nissan starting to fall behind its competitors in the range charts — we’re thinking there’s another LEAF (and possibly another ZOE) before a shared common platform unites the two plug-in cars.
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