Renault Preparing to Bring Low-Cost Electric Car to China

The Renault-Nissan Alliance appears ready to jump into the low-cost, competitive electric car market, at a much lower price than $35,000.

Gérard Detourbet, a Renault chief engineer best known for bringing low-cost competitive cars to market, is heading up the launch of a cheap electric car, according to French financial newspaper Les Echos. Detourbet is spending much of his time in China at a plant jointly owned by Renault-Nissan and Chinese automaker Dongfeng.

He’d been recruited out of retirement at age 67 by Renault-Nissan Alliance CEO Carlos Ghosn, then sent to India to bring a cheap car to market. The result was the Renault Kwid, a gasoline engine small car launched in September 2015 at the extremely low price of $3,850. It instantly became a hot selling car in the Indian market.

Now at age 70, Detourbet commutes between India and Wuhan, China, to a factory owned in the joint venture between Renault and Dongfeng. As chief engineer of the low cost electric car project, Detourbet is leading the way on a competitive product that Ghosn has been championing this year.

Early this year, Ghosn commented during the inauguration of Renault and Donfeng’s new Chinese plant in Wuhan, how “cheap and frugal” EVs will be even more important than luxury cars for leading in the Chinese market. Ghosn clarified that strategy a few months later at the Beijing motor show.

“High price EVs with very good performance are not selling very well in China. What is selling in China are lower spec models, more affordable ones,” Ghosn told reporters. “Renault and Nissan will continue to develop high spec models, but we are also working very hard on introducing low spec affordable electric cars, and for this we are working with our friends from Dongfeng.”

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That affordable electric car may be sold to Chinese car shoppers in the near future. For Forbes contributor Bertel Schmitt, the fact that Detourbet spends much of his time at the factory in Wuhan, China, owned by Renault and Dongfeng, “points to a release in the not too distant future.”

Schmitt had previously met with Detourbet at the Renault-Nissan engineering center in Chennai, India. The chief engineer explained how he’s been able to cut costs on a few Renault vehicle launch projects.

“The best way to reduce the cost of a car is to reduce the number of its parts,” he said. “You get a car that costs less to engineer, it is easier to assemble, and it has less to go wrong.”

He used Apple’s mouse as an example of simplifying the process and lowering costs, where the Apple mouse can do with one button a function that other manufacturers needed two, or sometimes three, buttons to control. Much of the chief engineer’s time Detourbet’s time is “spent chasing down unnecessary complexity,” according to Schmitt.

Les Echos speculated that the upcoming low cost China car could be a plug-in hybrid, and that it could be based on Renault’s Clio with batteries from LG Chem. But the automaker has yet to be specific about the product launch beyond it being the best deal in the market.

Forbes