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Renault bolsters electric-car lineup after squandering lead


Tara Patel  |  Bloomberg

Renault SA’s promotional blitz for its growing electric lineup may be too late for the maker of Europe’s best-selling EV to stay atop the region’s expanding market for battery-powered cars.

The French manufacturer and its partner Nissan Motor Co. have long enjoyed a first-mover advantage in the market. But their alliance has seen its share of Europe’s EV market shrink by almost half during the past four years. Tesla Inc. took over the pole position in 2019, and Volkswagen AG is now closing in fast.

Fighting back is now among the top priorities for new Chief Executive Officer Luca de Meo, who in July took over a company still reeling from the 2018 arrest of former leader Carlos Ghosn. On Thursday, he previewed two new electric models: the Dacia Spring crossover coming next year and a show car called the Megane eVision planned for 2022 and based off a platform shared with Nissan and its other alliance partner, Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

The reinforcements are sorely needed.

VW’s 22% slice of Europe’s battery-electric vehicle sales was just short of the 24% held by Renault and its alliance partners Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. in the first eight months of the year, Credit Suisse analysts said in a report last week, citing data from EV-Volumes.com.

Much of the focus of car companies in Europe has shifted to electrics, even as their share of sales remains relatively small at about 6.5% of the region’s total. Government incentives in the biggest markets of France and Germany have fueled an 85% rise in unit sales and boosted the segment’s share of the market by 3.5 percentage points from a year ago.

The top-selling electric model in Europe in the first eight months of the year was Renault’s Zoe subcompact, followed by Tesla’s Model 3 and VW’s e-Golf, according to Credit Suisse.

The Zoe helped Renault and Nissan retake the lead in battery-electric vehicle sales through the first eight months of this year, but that position is vulnerable now that VW’s ID.3 hatchback has arrived. The German carmaker will soon follow that model up with the ID.4 crossover. French rival PSA Group’s Peugeot e-208 also is making steady gains.

While the Zoe may fall behind, Renault’s new models could compete well with the ID.3 and Model 3, said Michael Dean, a Bloomberg Intelligence auto analyst. “2021 will be a big year for battery-electric vehicles, with a further jump in market share as more BEV models are made available,” he said.

The planned Megane eVision hatchback signals Renault will electrify the flagship of its compact range that’s been around for a quarter century. It will have the thinnest battery on the market and rival the roominess of a mid-size vehicles, de Meo said in a statement, calling it a “masterpiece of packaging.” The French carmaker is also expanding its range of hybrids and plug-ins with the Arkana, Captur and Megane models.

The focus on electric cars is part of de Meo’s project to overhaul Renault’s entire product range – which he deems roughly 30% too broad – and cut costs after a record 7.3 billion-euro ($8.6 billion) first-half loss.

The carmaker is freshening its electric lineup after relying on the Zoe for years. After the latest of several makeovers, the model has enjoyed surprising sales success this year, though it’s largely been a French phenomenon. Nissan’s Leaf has had better traction internationally and was the world’s best-selling electric model before being overtaken by Tesla.

An electric car costing less than 20,000 euros is key to safeguarding the alliance’s early advantage, according to de Meo, who has said Renault should focus on developing a profitable range of models built in France.

“We are pioneers in the area,” he said in a memo to employees last month. Calling Renault’s electric-vehicle platform a “weapon against Volkswagen,” he said Renault would not “give up our advantage and fall on the first offensive from a competitor.”