Very cheap, low-range electric cars key for China, India: Nissan CEO Ghosn

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Venucia E30 (Chinese version of Nissan Leaf electric car), Guangzhou Auto Show [photo: ChinaAutoWeb]

Venucia E30 (Chinese version of Nissan Leaf electric car), Guangzhou Auto Show [photo: ChinaAutoWeb]

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Carlos Ghosn, who runs automakers Nissan and Renault, is one of the few auto executives who'll regularly take questions from a roomful of more than 100 journalists.

At last week's New York Auto Show, many of the questions concerned plans by the Renault Nissan Alliance for more and higher-volume electric cars.

Discussing plans for India and China, he suggested that different products and tactics are needed.

DON'T MISS: Future Of Electric Cars Depends On China, Says Nissan CEO Ghosn (Sep 2013)

It's safe to say that electric cars offered in those countries won't be much like the Nissan Leafs and Renault Zoes sold in developed countries.

But any future growth in vehicle sales will come from the huge developing markets of China and India, not Europe, North America, or Japan.

So how can Nissan sell electric cars in those countries—and what's needed to make them a success?

2015 Nissan Leaf, Denver, Colorado, Mar 2016 [photo: owner Andrew Ganz]

2015 Nissan Leaf, Denver, Colorado, Mar 2016 [photo: owner Andrew Ganz]

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They will be, Ghosn said, "cheap and low-cost" to make them competitive enough that price-sensitive consumers will pay attention.

The alliance's priority, he said, "is to the mass market"—the Leaf, the Zoe, the Renault Kangoo and Nissan eNV-200 commercial vans—and not to "flagship" vehicles that may inspire passion and emotion, but sell in very low numbers.

"Costs need to go down" for electric cars to make a dent in China and India, he explained. "We need to be much more competitive—if they're too expensive, people don't buy them."

ALSO SEE: China To Top U.S. Electric-Car Sales? Why Stats Don't Compare

What's selling in volume in China and India, he added, are "very cheap" and "very simple" cars.

And for electric cars, he noted, that stands in contrast to the U.S. and Europe, where the Leaf and Zoe are far from least-expensive entries among similarly-sized vehicles.

"We don't have to guess" what Renault and Nissan could "take out" of electric cars to make them lower-cost, Ghosn responded when pressed for specifics.

2016 Renault Zoe electric car

2016 Renault Zoe electric car

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"We need cheaper batteries, and lower ranges," for customers who will "accept a lower level of performance" that will require "more refueling."

The best test of such a strategy is the Chinese market, he added.

Currently, Nissan partners with Chinese maker Dongfeng to assemble the Venucia E30, a lightly modified Nissan Leaf, for sale in China. It has sold only in small numbers.

CHECK OUT: Cue Kandi Store Jokes: Small Electric Car Goes On Sale In China

On other topics, Ghosn said nontraditional auto players like Google and Apple were "not a concern," though the alliance was watching them with interest.

"There's a lot of curiosity about" what they might do in electric cars, he said, "but they are not saying—which is a good strategy."

Those companies bring "a lot of attention, which makes our business more exciting," he suggested, and could pose a "good challenge."

Kandi electric car (Image: Kandi Technologies Group)

Kandi electric car (Image: Kandi Technologies Group)

Enlarge Photo

Responding to a question from a Middle Eastern journalist, Ghosn said some states in the region had approached the company about selling electric cars there.

But, he said, "I don't think we have a plan" to do that, having agreed with local partners that "it's not a good idea" due to the challenges of extreme climates and batteries that today are "very sensitive" to temperature.

You can follow all the photos and vehicles from last week's show by visiting our New York Auto Show news page.

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