With Groupe PSA’s takeover of the previously GM-owned Opel Automobile GmbH, and its brands of Opel and Vauxhall now finalized (http://articles.sae.org/15497/), sharp focus will be on how the German and U.K. companies maintain their individual identities beneath the French parasol. Renault and Nissan have been showing how it can be done—and have deepened their relationship.
The creation of the Renault-Nissan Alliance was not by takeover but by partnership under the guiding hand of Chairman Carlos Ghosn. It continues to pay handsome technology dividends. Two years ago, the partnership was further strengthened by emphasizing and converging four key functions: engineering, manufacturing and supply chain management, purchasing, and human resources.
In July 2017, Ghosn revealed that the annualized synergies realized by the Alliance rose to €5B last year, from €4.3B in 2015. Converged operations in purchasing, engineering and manufacturing contributed most of the €700M improvement.
He cited economies of scale, technology breakthroughs and innovations that are being shared by Renault and Nissan putting the Alliance on track to realize synergies of €5.5B in 2018, even without contributions from new partner Mitsubishi Motors.
In the six months to June 30 this year, Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi sales combined reached 5.27 million units, with EVs totaling 480,000 vehicles.
Mastering scale and differentiation
This year, the Alliance members are slated to introduce more next generation technologies in electric vehicles, autonomy and connectivity, plus increasing commonalities of powertrains, parts—and platforms.
A new platform combo example is the arrival of the second generation 5-seat Renault Koleos that sits on the Alliance’s CMF (Common Module Family) C/D architecture (suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear), sharing it with the recently updated 5-seat Nissan X-Trail. There is also plenty of component sharing. Delineation of the models is down to very different styling and the way the two are set up.
But isn’t there a danger of blurring, particularly in markets (like Europe) where both are sold? “Absolutely not,” stated Vincent Tourette, Renault’s Managing Director with responsibility for European sectors including U.K., Ireland and some Mediterranean countries. “A Renault will always be a Renault and a Nissan a Nissan," he claimed, adding that a Renault customer does not consider a Nissan and vice-versa!”
The new D-segment Koleos completes Renault’s SUV crossover range, joining the Kadjar and Captur. It was developed at several Groupe Renault engineering centers around the world for markets in 80 countries. Built in Busan, South Korea, (those for the Chinese market will be manufactured at Wuhan, China), depending on trim level it is available with features ranging from hands-free parking to heated and ventilated cup holders.
Drivetrain includes something of an auto industry rarity: a CVT. The X-tronic is the JATCO-developed unit providing simulated shift audio cues under hard acceleration and a selectable 7-speed sequential-shift mode to provide engine braking. Both 2WD and AWD versions are available. Connectivity is comprehensive and an 8.7-in screen is an option.
Investing in EVs, digitalization
While Nissan’s electric route has put the emphasis on plug-ins, Renault decided in 2008, as the global economic crisis was unfolding, to invest €4B in a pure EV program.
“It was a bold decision but the right one,” said Tourette, particularly in the light of recent statements by the U.K. and France to limit, by 2040, new-car sales to those with some degree of electrification though not necessarily pure EVs. “These decisions are validating the choice we made," Tourette said.
What won’t happen is a production version of Renault Sport’s 340kW pure EV Zoe e-sport technology demonstrator (http://articles.sae.org/15311/). Tourette confirmed that it is an example of what can be done rather than will be done.
Renault’s digitization programs have just expanded in a fresh area. They embrace what the company terms the creation of the “first-ever digital car maintenance book prototype,” leveraging Blockchain security technology and built in collaboration with Microsoft and VISEO.
Currently, information about customers and their vehicles is spread across multiple information systems maintained by automakers, insurers, repair shops etc. The new digital car maintenance book, with its open architecture, gathers all important information in one place accessible by the customer.
Meanwhile, PSA recently announced that Opel and Vauxhall will be operated as “true iconic” German and British brands. “We will continue our path of making technology ‘made in Germany.’ We have set ourselves the clear target of returning to profitability by 2020,” said Opel Automobile CEO Michael Lohscheller.
Joining the Opel Automobile Board as Vice President Engineering is Christian Müller, previously VP Global Propulsion Systems—Europe. He will be responsible for the integration of engineering and powertrain into one department. Lohscheller is said to be planning a “much leaner” management structure.