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Beijing show: Nissan’s Chinese Leaf changes badges

Turning over a new leaf: Nissan will release the Leaf electric vehicle in China under the Venucia sub-brand.

Rebadged Nissan Leaf surfaces as Venucia EV, with opportunity for Aussie input

Nissan logo30 Apr 2012

A PLAN to roll out Nissan’s Leaf electric car under the Venucia sub-brand in China might have positive implications for Nissan Australia’s aluminium casting plant in Victoria.

Nissan and its Chinese partner Dongfeng showed the Venucia E-Concept at the Beijing motor show last week and, while official plans for production remain under wraps, GoAuto was told that the car will be produced in China for the local market.

Apart from the grille and front bumper, the car is essentially identical to the Leaf, which is not sold in China despite government incentives to drive sales of eco-friendly vehicles.

Instead, Nissan has decided to use its pioneering all-electric hatchback to spearhead sales of the Venucia sub-brand, which was founded with Dongfeng in 2010 in response to a Chinese government demand for joint ventures to become more localised.

Venucia also is preparing to sell a petrol-powered car – the Tiida-based D50 small sedan – as part of a plan to roll out five models with a combined sales volume of 300,000 units a year by 2015.

The Leaf-clone E-Concept five-door hatchback will feature the same electric drivetrain and lithium-ion battery as the Nissan EV that is set to be launched in Australia in June with a starting price of $51,500.

Nissan’s Australian casting plant near its local headquarters in Dandenong, in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, is gearing up to produce three types of aluminium casting for the Leaf under a project supported by a $3.3 million co-investment grant from the Australian government’s now defunct Green Car Innovation Fund.

 center imageFrom top: The Venucia E-concept and the Tiida-based D50 sedan.

The contract provides for the plant to export 22,000 castings a year to Nissan’s Japanese factory that produces electric powertrains for Leaf and – in future – the similarly powered e-N200 van revealed recently in Geneva and the Infiniti EV based on the LE concept shown in New York.

Those motors are destined for Nissan EVs made around the world, including the Chinese-built Venucia electric hatchback.

Initially at least, Australia will be the sole source of the electric inverter case and its cooling jacket for the second-generation Leaf powertrain, with the inverter casting production starting later this year.

The parts are expected to generate $160 million in export earnings over five years to secure the factory that already exports 42 types of castings to 17 vehicle assembly lines around the world.

Last year, GoAuto was told that Nissan Australia was bidding for a supply contract for an unnamed electric vehicle, and a fourth type of casting was under consideration.

Nissan Australia general manager of corporate communications Jeff Fisher said it was not yet clear if the Australian castings would make their way into the Chinese-built Venucia EV, although he said there was a chance.

“All our castings initially will go to Japan for electric motors made there, and eventually they will be exported to the UK and America,” he said.

“We have no plans to export directly to China, but I guess there is a chance that Australian castings might find their way there via assemblies made in Japan.” The Venucia EV is set to be built in the southern city of Guangzhou, where Nissan and Dongfeng are building a new assembly plant capable of producing 600,000 units a year.

As well, a battery assembly factory is also set to be established nearby, all with the assistance of the local Guangdong provincial government.

No timing for the Venucia EV has been given, except that it should be on the market by 2015.

Like elsewhere around the world, Nissan has been trialing Leaf on the Chinese market, where various reports last suggested the car would be imported from Japan.

However, a spokesman for Dongfeng Nissan Passenger Vehicle Company told GoAuto at the Beijing show that Leaf would not be sold in China, and that the Venucia hatchback would be produced locally.

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