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Renault-Nissan Charges Ahead With Electric Cars in China

Nissan LEAFAs Google (s GOOG) mulls pulling out of China, the Renault-Nissan Alliance is digging in. The French-Japanese auto duo has just detailed its first deal with a Chinese city to develop electric vehicles and infrastructure. Under the pilot program announced Thursday, Nissan will roll out 25 electric vehicles in Wuhan starting in 2011 with the Nissan LEAF sedan. The Wuhan government will build 250 electric vehicle chargers, and two additional “quick chargers,” for installation in the city. Both Wuhan and Nissan plan to work on marketing, collaborating on “education and awareness programs.”

The project has been more than a year in the making — Wuhan and Renault-Nissan initially signed a memorandum of understanding, “to promote the development of zero-emission mobility in China,” back in April 2009. And in late 2008, the president of Nissan’s China division announced that the automaker aimed to start selling electric cars in the country by 2012.

Although Nissan claims today that its arrangement with Wuhan makes it the “first international auto manufacturer to sign an agreement with a Chinese partner,” the company has had a joint venture with China’s third-largest automaker, Dongfeng Motor Group since 2002.

Still, moving ahead with the Wuhan project and the effort to carve out space for its plug-in cars in the world’s largest car market represents a significant step for Renault-Nissan, which aims to dominate the global market for electric vehicles (Mark Perry, helping to spearhead Nissan’s EV efforts in the U.S., will be speaking at our Green:Net conference next month). At the Guangzhou International Auto Show back in 2008, Nissan China president Yasuaki Hashimoto described China as “one of the most important markets for electric cars.” According to Pike Research, the country will lead the electric car-charging boom, accounting for nearly half of the more than 5 million charge point installations anticipated worldwide by 2015.

The Chinese government has thrown its weight behind electric vehicles, aiming to make it the world’s leading producer of EVs and eventually also electric buses. With the project in Wuhan (one of 13 cities that the Chinese government has designated for promotion and pilot testing of electric and hybrid vehicles), Renault-Nissan will be near the front of the line of foreign-based automakers angling to benefit from government incentives such as hefty subsidies for local governments and taxi fleets to purchase electric vehicles.

These electric vehicle initiatives in China come as part of a larger push (in the form of incentives, mandates and other policies) for a greentech buildout in the fast-growing country. According to a report out today from the Pew Environment Group, China now leads the world in financing and investments for renewable energy — beating out the U.S. for the first time in 2009. Pew reports renewable energy investments in China reached $34.6 billion last year (primarily for wind, solar and biomass), compared to the U.S. haul of $18.6 billion.

Photo courtesy of Nissan