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Chapter 4: Electric vehicle development

4.6 Automakers’ electric vehicle development strategies

4.6.3 Nissan

Nissan’s approach towards EVs is less clearly identifiable. It appears that a preference for BPEVs existed, but HEV and FCEV technology was also included. Regarding traction batteries, Nissan made a different choice than Honda and Toyota: LiIon-batteries were judged as the more advanced type and Nissan worked together with Sony from the beginning of the 1990s. The joint effort was embodied in the BPEV version of the R’nessa (Altra in the USA): 30 of these

vehicles were given to CARB in 1998 to demonstrate Nissan’s commitment to comply with the ZEV Mandate (autochannel 1997). Although Nissan had already entered a new partnership in battery development, it utilised the results of the Sony cooperation, presumably because the new partnership had not resulted in superior batteries. Already three years earlier, in 1995, the OEM shifted to Hitachi: the result was the Hypermini release in 2000, which was powered by LiIon-batteries from Hitachi (Hasegawa 2008: 111). Only about 300 Hyperminis were produced and the majority was delivered for testing to municipal fleets in Japan and in California (Clemenger 2007).116 This hints to the fact that the technology was not market-ready and that the model was rather utilised for testing than for commercial breakthrough. In the same year, Nissan finished the development of its own hybrid system, which was first applied in the Tino (Almera) Hybrid. According to interviews conducted by Pohl (2012: 168), Nissan switched from its original focus on BPEVs to HEVs due to intense rivalry with Toyota. Slow progress limited the ability to introduce BPEVs or HEVs and after the alliance with Renault in 1999, hybrid R&D was halted (Yarime et al. 2008: 208). After the unexpected success of HEVs, Nissan announced an alliance with Toyota in 2002. Even before this step and despite its collaboration project on LiIon-batteries, the company procured NiMH-batteries from the Toyota-Matsushita joint-venture (Ahmadjian/Lincoln 2001: 692) and used Toyota’s hybrid system instead of its own (Hasegawa 2008: 111). Thus, the alliance could be regarded as a formalisation of the already existing cooperation between the car-makers. Nevertheless, this technology transfer is a remarkable step since both firms are archrivals. Indeed the purchase of NiMH-batteries was the first time Nissan procured technology from a Toyota subsidiary (Patchell 1999: 1004). Nissan also collaborated with NEC in LiIon battery development after the year 2000.

The seemingly irrational or shortsighted hold in HEV development after the alliance with Renault marks the clear emergence of a revolutionary strategy towards EV commercialisation.

Prior to this decision, all subtypes were developed in parallel so that a clear differentiation into revolutionary or incremental is not possible. Chosing a revolutionary approach can be explained by Nissan’s economic condition. New CEO Carlos Ghosn tried to concentrate efforts on making Nissan profitable again after years of shrinking market share. Thus, licensing technology from Toyota while examining the strengths and weaknesses of Nissan and drawing up an own strategy was possibly the only rational way for an outsider like Ghosn, who had to make the alliance between Renault and Nissan work. Indeed, as part of the strategy to revive Nissan117, it

116 Trials were hosted in Kyōto (138 units), Ebina (15), Tōkyō and Yokohama (20 each). In California, the University of California, Davis (15) and the city of Pasadena (11) also received Hyperminis for testing.

117 Due to the limitations of this research, Ghosn’s overall strategy cannot be discussed here. However, it is noteworthy that Ghosn restructured keiretsusuppliers and changed the procurement policy (Shimokawa

appears that the management decided to concentrate on BPEVs and FCEVs instead of challenging Toyota and Honda in the HEV field. As it has been claimed that Nissan’s hybrid system was more than 50% more costly to produce than Toyota’s (Clemenger 2007), this step would be plausible. In the field of BPEVs, the release of the Leaf is the hallmark of this development. The Leaf is powered by batteries that resulted from the collaboration with NEC and these batteries are produced by a joint-venture between the partners called the Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC).

The second generation Leaf was released 2012 in Japan and will come to overseas markets in 2013. AESC will provide new LiIon batteries118 which allow a greater range: according to the Japanese test cycle it will improve from 200 to 228km, while the European cycle registers 199km instead of 174km. The new Leaf shows that OEMs incrementally improve their models:

its air conditioning unit needs 70% less energy. This is important for extending the range as this system is the second largest electricity consumer of a BPEV. Further, the latest regenerative braking system can recover more energy. Charing time of a dedicated home charging system has been halfed from 8 to 4 hours (Handelsblatt online, 23.04.2012).119 The latest version has a lighter, more efficient motor which needs 40% less dysprosium, a rare earth metal, than its predessor (thegreencarwebsite, 20.11.2012). Nissan most likely will utilise these latest batteries in the upcoming Infiniti LE. The LE concept is based on the Leaf platform and will share many basic features. It was showcased at the 2012 New York International Motor Show and demonstrated many high-end features such as inductive charging and reduced aerodynamic drag due to improved body design (Infiniti 2012).120 Thus, Nissan employs its luxury subsidiary Infiniti to demonstrate latest technological capacities. As it can be claimed that luxury vehicles spearhead developments that later trickle down to other vehicle types, Nissan apparently seeks to use Infiniti in popularising these technologies.

Nissan’s alliance partner Renault also moves straight towards BPEVs. Although Renault’s strategy cannot be discussed in detail, a brief overview should illustrate the similarities to Nissan. The French OEM was released three BPEVs in 2012 (Fluence ZE (Zero Emission), Kangoo ZE, Twizy ZE) and the Zoe in March 2013. This demonstrates that both partners 2010: 111-122). This restructuring is the main reason why some Japanese informants even regard Nissan no longer as a Japanese company.

118 The new generation battery is sometimes called lithium nickel manganese cobalt (LiNiMnCo) battery.

Due to their lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (LiNiMnCoO2) cathode, this type is also referred to as NMC cells. Older LiIon types have litium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) cathodes.

119 This system is not available in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland due to regulation that prohibits connecting the system to home’s electric circuit.

120 The second generation Leaf improved the (air) drag coefficient cdfrom 0.29 to 0.28, while the Infiniti LE achieved 0.25. According to Daimler aerodynamic specialist Teddy Woll, a reduction of 0.01 saves 0.04L/100km under European cycle testing (Auto, Motor und Sport, 18.10.2011). Studies applying US test cycle (Kobayashi et al. 2009; McCulloch et al. 2012) reach only slightly different conclusions, presumably due to different European and US test parameters.

heavily bet on the success of BPEVs. Renault plans to set up its own battery-production, but for the time being, it will procure batteries from AESC and LG Chem (Reuters, 15.06.2011). For the background of this study, it is worth mentioning that the French state is supporting this move, as it regards powering BPEVs with electricity from its nuclear power plants as an eco-friendly way to decrease CO2 emissions. Unlike in Germany this is a national consensus.

The recent change from the conservative Sarkozy to Socialist Hollande administration was accompanied by an increase of consumer subsidies for BPEVs from € 5.000 to € 7.000 and from

€ 2.000 to € 4.000 for HEVs (Financial Times, 25.07.2012). This brief excursion again highlights that states follow different strategies of promoting innovative products which rest upon national interests and preferences.

In 2010, collaboration between Renault-Nissan and Daimler was initiated: it centred on cooperation in small and light-duty vehicles as well as joint parts procurement for these types.

However, joint development of a new small vehicle platform should also be commercialised with an all-electric, meaning BPEV, version and further, cooperation in battery- and electric vehicle components has been considered (Daimler 2010). As this rather vague formulation suggests, it is unclear if co-development in these future key components will be carried out.

Thus, if this limited cooperation is going to be expanded cannot be stated.

The FCEV development strategy of Nissan can be described as a mixture of all three ideal types: analyses of the patent data suggest that Nissan conducted limited R&D on FCEVs from the 1980s until the mid-1990s, before an increase occurs at the end of the decade (Yarime et al.

2008: 209f.). However, the first FCEV of the company, the 1999 R´nessa, was based on a methanol steam reformer jointly developed with Mitsubishi Kakoki Kaisha, the chemical engineering section of Mitsubishi, a LiIon battery and a PEFC stack from Ballard. With regard to the battery, it is likely that it is the result of the collaboration between Nissan and Sony. One year after the partnership with Renault was formed in 1999, Nissan announced that it would invest JPY 85 billion until 2005. It is unclear, how this development was conducted. The alliance is said to jointly develop fuel cells with UTC Power, formerly UTC Fuel Cells (Kunimi 2007: 257), a specialised fuel cell system developer. UTC Power is originally a subsidiary of the American corporation United Technology, but it collaborates with Toshiba, which invested in UTC Power. Further, there was cooperation through the firm HydrogenSource with Shell Hydrogen, but in 2004 both companies decided to dissolve this joint-venture (HydrogenSource 2004). If the description of Kunimi is correct must be doubted as UTC Power officially states that it provided fuel cells to Nissan, which the company also did for BMW and Hyundai-Kia (UTC Power 2010). This is confirmed by Nissan: the companies FCEV, the X-Trail, was powered by UTC fuel cell stacks in older versions, but the New X-Trail model of 2005 is equipped with an in-house developed stack (Nissan undated a; b). According to Nissan, this

stack was the first one to be independently developed by the company. So, relying on the information of the involved companies, it appears that Nissan has chosen a strategy similar to Honda. At the beginning, joint development and integration from external developed components occurred. When the R&D activities of Nissan translated into sufficient technology the company did not need to borrow components from specialised fuel cell system developers like UTC Power or Ballard anymore and consequently stopped procurement.