Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi EV investment is as much about teamwork as it is tech

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TOKYO — The RenaultNissanMitsubishi alliance’s bid to plow $26 billion into electric vehicles may splash less cash than big rivals such as General Motors or Toyota.

But the grand investment announced last week seemed aimed as much at reassuring the world the Franco-Japanese partners are still talking as much as touting their future trajectory.

Alliance Operating Board Chairman Jean- Dominique Senard, who was hired for the job after the group’s former boss Carlos Ghosn was arrested in Japan in November 2018, repeatedly stressed that distrust and discord had melted away and the partners were bounding toward a bright future.

“The strength of this alliance is increasing every day,” Senard asserted.

“Three years ago, the alliance was experiencing a crisis unprecedented in its history, based on a lack of trust,” Senard said. “This period belongs to the past. We have since then bounced back stronger and faster than even the most optimistic could have imagined.”

To underscore the point, the three automakers held a joint news conference to pitch their combined efforts. Headlining the push is the alliance’s investment in EVs over the next five years, funding 35 new battery-electrics due on roads by 2030.

The new strategy calls for achieving EV production capacity of 1.5 million vehicles a year by 2026 and a portfolio of five dedicated platforms for different segments, from minicars and entry-level offerings to crossovers and commercial vehicles.

Total battery production capacity is envisioned as reaching 220 gigawatt-hours by 2030, and for the first time, the alliance partners will mostly pull from the same battery supplier, Envision AESC.

Executives offered scant details on how the three companies will divvy up the investment. In the past, the Renault-Nissan partnership had aspired toward a 50-50 division on developing technology. But in practice, that arrangement made it difficult to reach agreement on projects and outlays, given differences between the companies’ size, volume, markets, customers and needs.

The dollar figure also may not impress compared with the huge sums some rivals are shelling out.

Toyota Motor Corp. said late last year it would introduce a lineup of 30 battery-electric vehicles by 2030 and invest some $35 billion in EVs from 2022 to 2030. General Motors, for its part, plans to spend around $35 billion on EVs and autonomous vehicles, with 30 EVs ready by 2025. And Ford Motor Co. has committed more than $30 billion toward EVs through 2025.

But Senard said the figure is more than sufficient, given the alliance’s head start in EVs, stretching back to the launch of the Nissan Leaf in 2010. “This is a very significant amount,” he said.

Still, the announcement was as much a repackaging of already-announced initiatives as it was a market reassurance that the three companies were still working together and focused on staying competitive. The investment figures, for example, included some $18 billion Nissan said in November it planned to spend over five years to accelerate its own vehicle electrification. And the automakers trotted out the solid-state battery road map Nissan had previously unveiled.

“There is not much completely new because what we wanted today is to explain to you what we have in our various plans,” conceded Clotilde Delbos, Renault’s deputy CEO and CFO.

The arrest of Ghosn on charges of financial misconduct at Nissan threw the alliance into disarray amid plunging sales, deep losses and jousting over the group’s structure.

Only in 2020 did the alliance return to some semblance of business as usual, under completely new leadership. At that time, the three companies carved up the world into spheres of influence, handing Renault the lead in Europe, Nissan the lead in the U.S., China and Japan, and Mitsubishi the point position in Southeast Asia. Since then, the alliance has been mostly quiet — its website lists only four news releases posted since 2019.

At last week’s press briefing, Senard repeatedly dodged questions about whether the companies were discussing a rebalancing of their thorny cross-shareholdings, a perennial hot-button issue.

Renault holds a controlling 43 percent stake in Nissan, which has a nonvoting 15 percent stake in Renault. Meanwhile, Nissan owns a controlling 34 percent share of Mitsubishi. Ghosn had been tasked with reorganizing these shares into an “irreversible” alliance when he was arrested.

Senard said now is not the time to revisit the issue. “Life is long, and we shouldn’t be impatient on that type of subject,” he said. “From what you have heard since the beginning of this session, we are demonstrating clearly that the ties are extremely strong. I think today that they are, in effect, unbreakable.”

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