Friday, 30 May 2008

Company Focus - Renault-Nissan - Leapfrogging ULEVs to ZEVs

The present picture of those contestant automakers in the Low Emissions race depicts Toyota rightly ahead of the crowd, now having sold over 1m units of Prius, with Honda, GM, Ford and all lagging far behind. VW's announcement on 28.05.08 that it had signed a collaboration deal with Sanyo Electronics demonstrates its recognition that it must look elsewhere beyond CO2 and CAFE assitive Fox, Polo and Bluemotion special editions.

Looking to Renault-Nissan, there has been much industry conjecture that Ghosn has lost his magic touch as financial results falter and as things stand in the critically competitive Hybrid arena that R-N is way at the back of the pack. But as we've seen in the most recent investor conferance Ghosn and his dual-Boards have decided that instead of being a recognised laggard to its Japanese peers by chasing the (contemporaryHybrid) ball that it would aim far higher, to the automotive stratosphere of pure electric vehicles as a primary pillar in R-N's latest growth initiative. In regard to this endeavour, whilst most financial analysts concur in recognising that this puts R-N on a theoretically technically more advanced path, ahead of the Hybrid crowd in the CO2 emissions stakes, there has been very recent comment from certain brokerage analyst quarters that doubt the R-N competive advantage as and when it comes. Stating that others can effectively junk some of the mechanical components from a Hybrid to form an EV.

Of course quotes for the financial press can be all too 'off the cuff' - especially during busy periods - or indeed taken out of context, and equally the respected press reporters seek to give as best account of industry action and analysts' response. Thus with sincere regard we do not seek to undermine or belittle any other general comment.

However, to put the record straight, the R-N initiative to adapt the Cube model is only a first-step and does not, we believe, represent R-N's full ambition to be an EV leader. A properly designed EV is far far more than "a regular hybrid with the gas tank removed". Obviously whilst the majority of financial analysts take a professional and personal interest in vehicle technology they cannot be overtly familiar with the nuances of conceptual engineering philosophy at the front end of possibly radical new product development.

Deductive reasoning might lead one to believe that Hybrids and EVs share a common DNA of body and chassis components, and in these early stages of 21st century vehicle developmental experimentation and critical market acceptance, but as EV powertrain technology starts to truly take hold Ghosn and other engineering knowledgables recognise that a true EV has the potential to massively change the architecture and package of a vehicle, especially in the field of space efficiency, making the kind of leaps forward that the transverse engine of original Mini did and setting a new benchmark/trend.

Thus given R-N's apparent focus on EVs, that latterday product offerings could in fact be game-changers for the industry at large if the company directs effort over the next 7 years to realise the potential of the technology. (See Amory Lovins' 1992 Hypercar as the architype for the 21st century car).

If Ghosn et al can indeed make it happen the LeapFrog would be massive indeed.