Renault-Nissan. A new stream of EVs for their future survival?

Renault and Nissan’s EV producing partnership seems to be picking up speed, and ever-more interesting names, potential customers and governmental support. Perhaps this new company really will become a force to be reckoned with, or is it just media hype?

Nissan Concept EV
Nissan Concept EV

Photo by Nikki Bloomfield

More after the jump

The motor industry is an incestuous one. It’s full of cross-company links and certainly in the case of the European motor manufacturers, vehicles are often jointly developed between multiple companies. For example, The Citroen C1, Toyota Aygo and Peugeot 107 are actually produced in the same Czech factory and then badged differently depending on which car make it’s meant to be. (It’s nothing new, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s the Morris Minor vans and pickups were also known as the Austin Minors.)

We may not realise it as we drive around, but today’s cars are remarkably similar. Sure, they may have different light clusters and trim levels but engines, floorspace and other essential technology is freely bought and sold across the auto industry. Ford have sold two of it’s former designs to different companies; The Ford Galaxy MPV became a VW vehicle of a different name, and the late 1990s/early 2000 Ford fiesta can also be found as the Mazda 121….

It doesn’t seem strange then, if automakers are getting together and working together to solve the looming problems of pollution and alternative fueled vehicles. While some companies appear to be going it alone the holy matrimony of Renault and Nissan, first hinted at back late 2007/eartly 2008, seems to be going from strength to strength.

Brought together via project Better Place , Renault and Nissan agreed to work together to help spearhead Project Better Place’s dream of having an independence from oil based transport and to create a future of electric vehicle dominated travel. Renault and Nissan have already worked extensively to bring electric prototypes to the Better Place platform and have even agreed on a future where car ownership is separated from battery ownership. This utopian visage centres on battery rental rather than battery ownership. EV drivers would be able to rent and exchange batteries at fast-switch stations, negating time for recharging – a big sticking point that many cite as the reason EVs haven’t made it to the mainstream auto world. As over-complicated and possibly overdependent as this Utopian idea may appear, Project Better Place has certainly got Renault and Nissan working hard on bringing electric vehicles to the market sooner rather than later.

Not surprisingly, neither car company is new to this EV game. Back in 1990s Renault, part of the PSA group who jointly own Renault, Peugeot and Citroen (another trio of car companies who share body pans, shells and ideas) brought various EVs to the market, including electric versions of the Renault Clio. Back then, the PSA built EVs were based around a DC motor and integrated control system, with a battery pack made of NiCd batteries, manufactured by SAFT. PSA signed an exclusivity contract with the battery company they used, SAFT, which has made it very difficult since for owners of these fantastic EVs to buy replacement batteries. The car’s complexity makes it difficult to retro-fit alternative battery types. Many of these Berlingo, Partner, 106 and Cilo electrics end up on ebay, with very low range and in need of some serious TLC. Now that these vehicles are pushing 10 years old or more, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep them on the road. Let’s hope Renault don’t do something similar with Nissan this time. Although, if project Better Place is to be believed, we’re all going to be driving around cars with identical, interchangeable battery packs anyway. (I’m skeptical of the battery swapping, not the uniform battery packs – after all, most internal combustion cars are based around with petrol or Diesel fueled engines at the moment….)

Nissan aren’t new to the EV game either. In the early 2000s they produced the Nissan Altra EV and even trailed it. Much like the sad demise of other EVs at the time, the Nissan didn’t live to tell the tale beyond 2005. But Nissan certainly made them.

Why then, are these two automotive giants coming together to co-produce electric vehicles? Is it just another day in the office, or something more special?

EVs are, for the most part, considered new tech. For the hardened EVangelist this is obviously not true. Nor for the dedicated historian. Don’t forget that Mrs. Henry Ford had an electric car! But perhaps alliances like Renault and Nissan working together on green EV tech is a way of producing good tech, cheaply and at less risk than doing it alone. Safetey in numbers, if you will.

Whoever does the talking for these two companies on this venture are certainly talking to the right people. The UK government is set to help Nissan in it’s quest to produce electric cars and only this week, Ireland’s energy minister has announced plans to work alongside Irish energy company ESB, Renault and Nissan in turning the Emerald Isle green with electric vehicles by 2020.

But it doesn’t just stop there. Renault and Nissan have also been working hard to get smaller concerns involved, including the likes of GreenTomatoCars to produce an all electric minicab fleet in Central London. For a vehicle which has yet to hit the market the new EV from this Franco-Japanese company is certainly making big waves.

Maybe it’s a survivalist instinct in the companies involved, or perhaps it’s a genuine desire to start a green revolution, but the steps made forward by these twinned giants of the automotive world could really secure them a place in the new world order of cars. I’m not a conspiracy nut, but if I were I would perhaps at this point say something along the lines of this venture being nothing new – or in fact that it wouldn’t change anything. However, I think that, unlike some of the other automotive bed partnerships, this one could produce something new.

But without BetterPlace. (I still view the BetterPlace vision as being overcomplicated).

GM, you really have to pull your finger out to keep up now. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.