While Stabenow Sparks, China Pulls Plug, Let's In Made-in-Japan Leaf

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

Two days ago, we told you that Senator Debbie Stabenow was barking up the wrong tree when she again fingered China for “attempting to pressure American automakers, including General Motors and Ford, to transfer core technologies of their electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles to Chinese companies, in order for those vehicles to qualify for China’s clean energy vehicle incentive program.” Both Ford and GM quickly and as diplomatically as possible said it isn’t so, simply because neither of them has any plans to build electric vehicles in China. Now it turns out that Stabenow was barking up the wrong forest: Nissan will export its Made in Japan Leaf to China. And the Chinese clean energy incentive program looks like a non-starter.

Last week in Yokohama, Kimiyasu Nakamura, president of Nissan’s China joint venture, remarked that the Leaf will be exported from Japan to China. Wasn’t everybody, especially Ms. Stabenow and the New York Times, from which the senator seems to get her intel, convinced that the Chinese will never allow imports of EVs, and will insist on EVs that are made under Chinese brands?

Well, pair a Brazilian-Lebanese hard-charging businessman with Chinese state-owned enterprise managers, and you get a deal and something done. In July, Carlos Ghosn of Nissan/Renault cut a face-compliant deal with Chinese joint venture partner Dongfeng to make a Chinese EV under the Venucia brand – by 2015. Give a little, get a little: Now, the Leaf can be imported. China Car Times heard the car may even hit the stores after the October holidays.

From what we are hearing, nobody is looking for huge numbers at this moment, but import is import. Once it makes sense, the plug-in Leaf will be produced in China. It sounds like a “first to market” and “show the flag” exercise. There could be some desperate buyers in Beijing who pay the high price (the guesses are around $30,000) in order to by-pass the license plate lottery. A made in China Leaf and a “Chinese” Venucia EV should be much cheaper. Especially after incentives. If and when they come.

It had been awfully quiet when it comes to Chinese EV incentives. All kinds of proposals, drafts and rumors of impending announcements had been swirling around, but no action followed. Incentives of up to $18,000 had been bandied about. The official announcement is long overdue. Edmunds says the incentives may never come. Or much later than expected:

“Beijing appears to be on the verge of doing a U-turn on its support for plug-in vehicles, in light of the fact they have proven enormously unpopular despite hefty government incentives to by them. Premier Wen Jiabao said in July’s issue of Qiushi, a leading Communist Party magazine, that “it remains uncertain whether hybrid and electric cars, which are now the focus of much of the development, will be the winners in the end.” He cited “problems with their technical path, problems with core technologies, problems with investment, problems with policy support.” Meanwhile, intense debate broke out between influential Chinese bureaucrats over the future of the country’s green-car industry, with officials of the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) bitterly arguing in public. The NDRC’s Li Gang pulled no punches, referring to the “hopeless” prospects of the country’s “garbage technology” for electric cars.”

Nobody is expecting that China will give up its long term plans for electric cars. But even in today’s faster paced China, long term plans can take a while. No wonder Ford and GM have no immediate plans.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href="http://www.tomokoandbertel.com"> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href="http://www.offshoresuperseries.com"> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Pf21 Pf21 on Sep 18, 2011

    Who is Li Gang? Did he really know what he was talking about or he was just unhappy? The Hu-Wen government will be gone next year. Do not expect dramatic changes in the EV front before 2013.

  • Protomech Protomech on Sep 20, 2011

    The title should be "Lets In Made-in-Japan Leaf". I'm curious to see what Chinese Leaf sales look like. Despite heavy government pressure, domestic electric vehicles haven't sold for crap in China. Maybe because the vehicles themselves ARE crap. The Leaf, given the inherent limitations of battery storage, is not a crap car.

  • Redapple2 HK: The Redapple is the TTAC resident HK hater. I have listed the reasons before. But, I am smart enough to keep my eyes open. I will say this. Overall, they have the best styling/design in autodum. I may not like certain models, but overall, they try. They try something new, different, fresh. Some models are great. Some so-so. But they are TRYING- All the time. Year after year. Other brands are locked into a firm theme - across multiple models and brands. Some lasting decades EX. Evil gm vampire Cadillac Arts and Science has been around for 22 years. Flawed fugly from the start. Never got better.
  • SCE to AUX This is the right direction for EVs, but I can't warm up to Kia's latest styling.This is bad news for Rivian, whose similarly-specced R3 isn't due until 2027 or something.Perhaps a low-spec version will start at $30k (maybe), but the 300-mile version with trimmings will certainly run closer to $50k. Then everyone will say Kia lied.
  • Buickman foolishness has no bounds, or borders.
  • JMII Wonder what the Hyundai version will look like because I am NOT a fan of this styling.Also someone needs to explain to H/K/G that you want the dark colored interior parts were you touch/sit and the lighter color parts elsewhere. For example the door panels here are dark with light armrests - this is backwards. Genesis made the same mistake in the GV60's white/ash (grey) interior. While I greatly appreciate something other then the dreaded black cave interior did they not consider how impossible this will be to keep clean in the real world?
  • JMII I see lots of ads for their CUVs but given the competition in this segment why would I buy an Outlander over a similar product from Toyota, Honda or Hyundai? Mitsubishi needs to offer something compelling, some hook or defining difference. I don't think I've encountered a single person who says "wow have you seen the new [blank] from Mitsubishi? I need to get me one of those".I owned a Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-T back in '96 and it was fun car. Mitsubishi once made interesting choices with a rally heritage - those cars were fast and pretty high tech at the time. Like Nissan they kind of fell into the we will finance anyone pool so other then an Evo as a track toy anyone I knew steered clear of them.