China’s Gasgoo says that “Dongfeng Nissan has already begun preparations for domestic production of the Nissan Leaf pure electric hatchback.” Domestic as in Made-in-China. They quote Dongfeng Nissan CEO Fumiaki Matsumoto, who allegedly said: “We have already finished preparatory work for the Leaf. We hope that we can cooperate with the government and suppliers to bring over the Leaf as soon as possible.” That of course piqued our interest. After some calls, we can say with certainty: Instead of millions of Leafs roaming the streets of China tomorrow, we have a case of Lost In Translation with a French-Japanese-Chinese cast.
At the Shanghai Motor Show, Carlos Ghosn had been asked by reporters when he would bring the Leaf to China. He answered that this depends on the Chinese government and when it would institute which policies. Ghosn has a way with words. You need to listen vigilantly, parse his sentences with care and resist the urge to fill in the voids.
Nissan’s China-chief Matsumoto simply reiterated Ghosn’s remarks. When he said “We have already finished preparatory work for the Leaf,” he didn’t say that the Nissan plant in Guangzhou is ready to produce Leafs. He meant that the Leaf is already developed, that it is being produced and sold. Which sets it apart from the many EVs in China that seem to run on hot air.
“Mr. Matsumoto intended to say that Nissan has already started to produce the Leaf in Japan,” explains Akihiro Nakanishi, spokesman of Dongfeng Nissan in Guangzhou. Production can be done elsewhere when the circumstances call for it, says Nakanishi. “However, the government policy has not been announced in China and we are waiting for it.”
Nissan is not alone. Whole China is waiting for a formal announcement of China’s EV policies. Many draft regulations are floating around. Some unnerved American senators, others raised the hope of Beijingers on a car without having to try your luck in the license plate lottery, and with a hefty subsidy on top. There will be policies on a central government level, and policies for each city. The devil is in the details, and the details are not clear until the policies become law and are on the books. Which they are not. The Beijing scuttlebutt expects passage some time this summer.
With more than a million cars sold in China last year, Nissan is already the largest Japanese brand in the middle kingdom. If they move decisively once the policies are finally law, the Leaf could become the EV leader in China while other manufacturers try to replace the hot air with something salable.