Renault and Nissan step up race with Tesla over powering electric cars

Renault and Nissan aim to be among the first carmakers to sell 1m electric vehicles using their joint battery system, putting them alongside Tesla and Volkswagen as industry leaders.

Luca de Meo, chief executive of the Renault, made the forecast this week at the FT’s Future of the Car Summit, adding that the partners were in talks to standardise the battery modules used in their electric cars.

It is a sign that the often-fractious alliance is finally healing under new management after the departure of the partnership’s former boss Carlos Ghosn, arrested in 2018 for financial misconduct charges.

“If we manage to come up with a very synergetic approach on battery, the alliance would probably be one of the first to cross the threshold of a million cars sold on the same battery module,” De Meo said.

Reducing complexity and cost is key for carmakers as they try to reduce the price of battery cars, while raising the profit margins they make selling them.

At present, Renault and Nissan source batteries separately, but Nissan’s chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta said the next generation of technology would be “a common battery” for the alliance, which also includes Mitsubishi.

“If we do a battery for 10m cars with the same chemistry, same structure, same sourcing, it will definitely be moving forward,” he told the virtual summit.

The alliance plan puts the groups within touching distance of VW, which plans to sell 1m electric or hybrid cars this year, although only half of those will be battery-only. 

Tesla, which only sells electric cars, is ramping up production of its electric vehicles after coming close to delivering 500,000 units last year.

Senior executives from Ford and Stellantis also warned about pricing motorists out of cars by moving too fast towards electric vehicles at the three-day FT event.

Ford’s European president Stuart Rowley said that a wider collaboration was needed with government, energy companies and charging groups in order to drive wider adoption of battery cars, as well as the need to lower the price so that current car buyers can afford the models.

“It has to be led at the ministerial level, but it needs to involve local governments as well as national, utility providers and industry participants,” he said.

“If we are not successful, people are going to keep hold of older vehicles, more polluting vehicles. We can’t leave people behind.”

There were also warnings of a squeeze of clean materials needed to make batteries, if carmakers continued to pull forward their ambitions to decarbonise the fleet.

As carmakers try to source materials in a decarbonised way, Tomas Nauclér, from McKinsey, told the FT event he expected a risk of shortages of clean-sourced parts.

He expected shortages of materials such as lithium, cobalt and nickel or iron ore for steel in the second half of this decade, as the new processes for reducing emissions from extraction or processing mean miners struggle to pump out enough to meet the demand expected from soaring sales.

“We are going to see a green materials squeeze in the second half of this decade, most likely, and possibly even into the next decade,” he said. “The next five years will be decisive whether we will see enough supply coming fast enough.” 

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