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Renault, Nissan Expand Their Electric Vehicle Empire

Renault electric vehicle concepts
Renault electric vehicle concepts

Hot on the heels of a tie-up with Daimler AG (s DAI), the Renault-Nissan (s NSANY) Alliance has just recruited two more players to its team in the race to dominate the global electric vehicle market. This morning the French-Japanese auto duo led by Carlos Ghosn announced plans to collaborate with Italy’s largest electricity producer, Enel, and Spanish utility giant Endesa to help ready infrastructure and services for plug-in cars like the upcoming Nissan LEAF.

Today’s deal between Renault-Nissan and the two power companies will lay the groundwork for an electric vehicle rollout in Italy (where Enel agreed back in 2008 to deploy infrastructure for a demo of Daimler’s electric Smart Fortwo), Spain and Latin America. And at this point, that means conducting a whole lot of research. The partners plan to study several pieces of the EV puzzle, including the power interface, safety and communications protocol needed to integrate Renault and Nissan vehicles with recharging infrastructure provided by Enel.

Nissan LEAF battery pack
Nissan LEAF battery pack

One of the most interesting parts of the agreement will focus on how to put batteries to work after they’ve reached the end of their useful life in vehicles. As Renault put it in this morning’s release, the group plans to launch a “study of the entire battery lifecycle, including the possible use of the battery as an energy storage system of energy produced from renewable sources.”

The project comes as Renault-Nissan’s latest move to try to capture the total value chain for lithium-ion batteries, following initiatives to make battery cells through a joint venture and, through another joint venture with Japan-based trading house Sumitomo, recycle the packs for use in energy storage devices for backup power.

Given the partners’ previous efforts in this space, why does this latest agreement call for only a study of possible secondary applications, instead of a deployment? As Julie Mullins, spokesperson for EV infrastructure startup Better Place (which has a partnership with Renault-Nissan), explained to us in the fall, there probably won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution for all of the batteries coming out of Nissan’s joint venture and going into cars like the LEAF and it’s still early days. For example, “Recycling may differ on geography base,” she said, “given both global and local regulations need to be followed.”

While Renault-Nissan, Enel and Endesa (which in addition to being an electric utility in Spain also claims to be the “first private electricity company in Latin America”) aim to set up pilot projects in Italy, Spain and Latin America, they have yet to identify specific areas for those rollouts.

Graphics courtesy of Nissan and Renault.

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