Is the Renault-Nissan Alliance Going in Two Different Electric Car Directions?

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Editor’s Note: This is part four of an exclusive sit down I had with Hideaki Watanabe, Nissan’s Division Manager of their Global Zero Emission Business Unit, at last week’s U.S. debut of the LEAF in Los Angeles. Part one is devoted to battery swapping, part two to battery leasing, and part three to the quietness and safety of EVs.

During the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, Renault invited Gas 2.0’s own UK-based Chris Milton to an exclusive event detailing the company’s electric car strategy. The event introduced some rather quirky (and quirkily named) electric cars, including the Twizy, the Kangoo, and the Zoe. These aren’t just concept cars, they are cars that Renault intends to build and sell—some by next year.

Based on those releases—and the fact that Nissan hasn’t invested anything in battery swapping while Renault has jumped in head first—it started to seem that the Renault-Nissan Alliance was taking two completely different paths on the road to EV world domination. On the one hand you have Nissan with the rather mainstream-looking LEAF and plans for a luxury Infiniti electric car. And on the other you have… the Twizy.

In my recent sit down with Hideaki Watanabe, Nissan’s Division Manager of their Global Zero Emission Business Unit, I asked him to explain why Nissan and Renault were apparently moving in opposite directions.

When asked if there was a clear divergence now between the direction Renault is going and the direction Nissan is going with electric cars, Mr. Watanabe responded with his characteristically good wit, “No, because I’m head of both and I report to Mr. Ghosn directly on this matter.”

Okay, point taken. But why are the strategies so different? “First of all,” he said, “you mentioned a very good point about the characteristics of the two brands. One of the reasons why our alliance has existed for so long is that we respect the brand. Our zero emission strategy between Renault and Nissan is common. We have the same vision that we want to move this world to zero emissions vehicles, but the product line ups that come out of it are totally different.”

“Our Nissan vehicles will be Nissan DNAed vehicles, our Renault vehicles will be Renault DNAed vehicles,” he continued. “We’re not going to mix the two brands together. As an alliance we are able to offer to the market various concepts with DNAs of Nissan and DNAs of Renault. That’s one benefit that we can have by implementing a joint zero emissions strategy.”

So the whole divergence thing starts to make a bit more sense. But really, I still don’t get the Renault quirky design strategy. If the whole goal is to make EVs mainstream, don’t you want mainstream looking cars? I guess maybe there is more acceptance of quirky within the European market, but my wife is German and even she thinks the Twizy looks silly. Granted, that’s a statistical population of one, but nonetheless… it does look ridiculous.

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Disclaimer: The author’s travel and lodging expenses were paid for by Nissan to attend the Los Angeles unveiling of the LEAF.

 

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.