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China will save the electric car, Nissan CEO says

PARIS/BEIJING — China will save the electric car, Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn predicts — and with it the vision of battery-powered motoring on which he has staked his credibility.

Mr. Ghosn, who has plowed a bigger share of his companies’ cash into the technology than any other mass-market carmaker, struck a determinedly optimistic note as he released Renault’s Zoe into a European market notable for its scarcity of electric car chargers and customers.

Industry investments will be sustained by Chinese plans to build production capacity for two million electric cars and plug-in hybrids by 2020, Mr. Ghosn said in an interview coinciding with the first Zoe deliveries to European consumers last week.

“This isn’t speculation,” Mr. Ghosn insisted. “China’s decisions are among the most audacious that have been taken by any government.”

Despite generous subsidies, U.S. and European sales of electric cars remain far below expectations three years since the introduction of the Nissan Leaf. That leaves China as a last redoubt for many believers, despite mounting skepticism about Beijing’s target.

China has 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. They will set the rules so that the consumer buys — that’s how it’s going to happen

The installation of charging networks is also flagging. Many of Europe’s estimated 20,000 public chargers are concentrated in Germany. This forced Renault to resort to giving away costly equipment in France, which still has only about 4,000 public chargers.

Renault has introduced three electric models since 2011 and sold 16,000 of the vehicles last year. Nissan, its 43.4%-owned Japanese affiliate, sold 26,973 Leafs — 20% below target.

Speaking at a Zoe test-drive event in Cascais, Portugal, Mr. Ghosn gave no objectives for sales or production in Flins, west of Paris, where the French carmaker has invested in capacity to assemble 150,000 of the vehicles annually.

“We don’t share them,” Mr. Ghosn said. “We don’t want to give the impression if these targets are not [met] that there is something wrong with our strategy.”
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