In an attempt to significantly reduce the costs of manufacturing an electric car, Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi will share their engineering resources to develop one chassis suitable for every electric car model the three companies build. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn is pushing hard to get the retail price of the electric cars down to the point where they are cost competitive with conventional cars.
Despite the fact that electric cars are superior to cars with internal combustion engine in many respects, the buying public continues to do what it always does in a market economy — seek the lowest price. In an effort to get people to choose an electric car over a conventional car, governments around the world offer a bewildering array of incentives to those who choose to buy electric.
In the US, electric car buyers can qualify for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits, but what really lights a fire under some people are non-monetary incentives like access to HOV lanes, free parking in cities, or access to free charging. In China, someone who buys a conventional car in one of that country’s crowded cities — China has 106 cities with more than 1 million inhabitants, the US has 8 — may have to wait as much as 5 years to register their car. A person who buys an electric car instead qualifies for a registration immediately.
Mitsubishi has recently come under the control of Nissan, after a fuel economy scandal earlier this year came close to bankrupting the company. A report in Japanese business news source Nikkei says all three companies will use the redesigned chassis intended for the upcoming second generation LEAF — due to arrive in 2018 — as the basis for every electric car they sell. Developing one chassis rather than three will significantly lower development costs. The three companies will also share key components such as the motor, inverter, and battery — a move that will further reduce production costs.
Ghosn is on record as wanting to make an electric car for the Chinese market that retails for $8,000 or less. It will be no Tesla, but in a country that sells nearly 20 million news cars a year, many drivers are looking for basic transportation rather than luxury appointments.
Electric cars are not novel anymore like they were in 2010 when the LEAF first went on sale. Interest in driving electric is at an all time high. Many industry observers expect electric cars to become the norm within the next decade. Higher prices than conventional cars are the only thing keeping the dam from breaking. If Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi can figure a way to slash the cost of their electrics by 20%, they could become a dominant force in the global vehicle market.