French automaker Renault has been selling conventional gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles in China for years through a joint-venture with China’s Dongfeng Motor Group. That partnership is set to end, however, as Renault has announced it has no plans to continue selling ICE-powered vehicles in the world’s largest auto market. That doesn’t mean Renault is leaving China, however — it just means that Renault is going all electric, all the time.
François Provost, chairman of Renault for China, called the move to an electric-only model “a new chapter in China” for the company. And, curiously, said that the move would “more efficiently leverage our relationship with Nissan.” That last comment is interesting because rumors of a growing rift between the two companies had been swirling in the months leading up to the COVID-19 crisis that has crippled much of the global economy — automakers, especially.
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows, I guess, and there’s been plenty of misery to go around for Renault these days. The company sold just 18,607 cars in China in 2019, despite a capacity of 110,000. Those sales added up to a loss of some 1.5 billion yuan, even before the coronavirus-induced shutdowns. That’s a lot of US American dollars, sounds like.
Renault’s other half, Nissan, hasn’t been doing too well, either. The Japanese brand’s sales in China dropped 80% year over year through February, where it sold just 15,111 vehicles. Even its SUV sales, which seem a relatively safe bet in the US and Europe, had trouble. As bad as that news is, it’s especially bad for Nissan, whose sales were down 27% in the US over the same period, and which had bet big on the Chinese market to pull it out of the doldrums.
Time will tell if the move toward a smaller, all electric product portfolio will pay off for the two brands. For now, electric Renault cars and commercial vehicles will continue to be sold under existing joint ventures with Brilliance Jinbei Automotive Company, eGT, and the Jiangxi Jiangling group in China, as Nissan goes forward with reduced ICE offerings at its Chinese dealers as well.
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