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Nissan aims for China launch of cheap electric car in 2 years

The Nissan-Renault alliance aims to offer Chinese drivers a new electric car costing just $8,000 within two years, chief executive Carlos Ghosn said Tuesday as he touted an “explosion” in demand amid efforts to offset climate change.

The electric auto market as a whole is stepping up a gear thanks to cheaper batteries, government incentives to consumers and better infrastructure for charging vehicles on the go, he said at the Web Summit in Lisbon.

“For me, it is a no-brainer: electric cars are going to be a much bigger part of our industry in the future,” Ghosn told AFP in an interview.

Nissan was a groundbreaker in mass-marketing electric vehicles from 2008 and counts the popular Leaf in its fleet.

But that higher-priced model does not compete against cheaper offerings from rival manufacturers such as BYD, Zhidou and SAIC in China, which is now the world’s biggest auto market and also one of its worst polluters.

“There is an explosion of demand for the small, cheap electric cars in China. We’re going to compete because we want to continue to maintain our leadership in electric cars,” Ghosn said.

– ‘Big market’ –

“The Chinese country is putting a lot of support behind electric cars and I think China, which will represent in 2016 one-third of the car market in electric cars, there’s going to be a big market for electric cars.”

Ghosn did not offer details of the new Nissan-Renault model — the Japanese-French company works with joint venture partner Dongfeng in China — but said the price point and timeframe were set.

“Our intention is to (market) a car which you can sell at $8,000 but without (government) incentives,” he said, adding it would be a localised product made with Chinese engineering. “Our objective is to be on the market within a couple of years.”

Beijing is seeking to develop its nascent electric car industry with incentives and other government support in a bid to boost the country’s environmental credentials and tackle crippling air pollution.

Some 247,000 “zero emissions cars” were sold in China last year, quadruple the number in 2014, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

That leaves a lot of room of growth, automakers believe, with 24 million new cars sold in total in China last year.

– Climate factor –

A key driver in the growth, Ghosn believes, will be climate change. UN members are now meeting in Morocco to flesh out details of how they can best combine to implement an agreement to defuse the menace.

Future emission regulations will “play a very important role in the speed at which electric cars are going to develop”, the auto executive said.

“In my opinion this is going to drive more electric cars in the future” but the industry is still waiting on details from the international effort, he said.

Key to the electric development is the evolution of battery technology. Initially, Nissan made its own batteries for want of anything suitable on the market, but Ghosn said it was now content to buy from other suppliers and concentrate on researching advanced batteries of the future.

He said that electric and hybrid vehicles count as significant trends alongside connectivity inside vehicles, to plug them into the world online, as well as autonomous driving cars.

Questions have been raised over the autopilot system used by the pioneering company Tesla after two fatal crashes this year.

But Ghosn said isolated incidents would not sidetrack the evolution of self-driving cars, as Nissan-Renault tests one such vehicle on a dedicated highway lane in Tokyo.

Nissan on Monday said its net profit during the April-September period fell 13.3 percent, blaming a strong yen and weak sales in Japan.

But sales in China rose 3.8 percent to 610,000 automobiles.