Blog: Dave LeggettWhat would the Chinese want from Renault?

Dave Leggett | 10 January 2011

I've had an interesting email from someone with a theory about the Renault espionage story. The Chinese, the author tells me, are determined to become EV leaders and not find themselves in the position of playing industry catch-up, or having to work with foreign firms for technology transfer, as they have been doing with fossil-fuelled ICE automotive technology over the past few decades.

What is being sought for China, the theory goes, is something like the Project Better Place proposed system of battery swap stations (Chinese government not keen on fast charging). Better Place has an exclusive agreement with Renault and Renault is developing cars with the battery swap capability – and that's what the Chinese are interested in. And they want to 'leapfrog' the ICE, taking full advantage of their huge domestic market to gain an international competitive advantage in electric vehicles and dominate the industry at a global level.

Interesting theory.

Let me add a few things to the mix. One, China imports a lot of oil and that's surely something that rapid growth of the ICE car parc isn't helping (as well as air quality). Two, has the ICE learning process facilitated by joint ventures with foreign carmakers largely run its course? The big players are arguably more able to stand on their own two feet now and there is also a clutch of smaller independent Chinese OEMs. A shake-out over the next few years will leave the industry still leaner and with a low-cost structure by international standards. The Chinese firms have their own brands, know how to make cars and have an understanding of the manufacturing processes so it's about execution now. Do they need the foreign partners? Debateable perhaps, but not as much as they did in the early days.

And three, now that there is a big group of car users relatively new to car ownership, the government can play with regulations and taxes to make electric vehicles more popular when this big group comes round for replacement purchases. Could they be weaned off of ICE cars to EVs? Would a network of battery swap stations and vehicles that could take advantage of that help? Could a 'state enterprise' possibly play a big role in the infrastructure side of things and would that be something that might be licensed internationally to countries that are friendly to China, too?


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