Nissan plans EV subscription service in Japan

Nissan plans to let Japanese drivers lease its electric vehicles for several years instead of buying them, an unusual move aimed at conserving more of the precious metals that cars depend on in the country.

The new rental service highlights the strategies Japanese automakers are experimenting with to maintain control over metals, like lithium, that businesses and governments around the world are fighting over.

By retaining ownership of more vehicles, Nissan is betting it can stem the flow of electric vehicles and battery packs that end up being sold overseas as used models. Russia and New Zealand are the two most popular destinations for used electric vehicles from Japan.

“A challenge is that the Leaf [Nissan model]including its batteries, are exported overseas as used cars and there are fewer vehicles left in Japan,” said Yutaka Horie, chairman of 4R Energy, Nissan’s joint venture with trading house Sumitomo Corporation designed to extend the life of electric batteries.

“We want people to understand the value of used batteries and we want these cars to stay in Japan,” Horie told the Financial Times at the company’s factory in Fukushima.

Analysts said the rush to recover and reuse batteries from electric cars was driven by soaring prices for lithium and rare earth metals, as well as growing national security pressure around the world to reduce reliance. with respect to foreign sources of critical natural resources.

As part of the service, Nissan customers will sign up for a monthly subscription model, but it’s aimed at drivers who want to hire long-term. The Leaf is Nissan’s first and most popular electric vehicle model. Earlier this year, rival automaker Toyota also began offering a subscription service in Japan for its first mass-produced electric vehicle.

Rare earth metals used in electric vehicle batteries are becoming a national security priority for governments © Eri Sugiura/FT

Nissan expects conventional electric vehicle sales in Japan to still account for the vast majority of its business. Its new rental service will not be available in other markets.

Analysts said the flow of electric car batteries containing precious metals poses a challenge to national security.

“Batteries have become strategic items, just like chips, because the fate of the automotive industry depends on securing these assets,” said Sanshiro Fukao, a senior researcher at Itochu Research Institute.

Russia and New Zealand together account for nearly 80% of the 7,545 used electric vehicles – mostly Leafs – exported from Japan in the first six months of this year, according to Japan Trade Statistics.

4R Energy was established shortly before Nissan launched the Leaf in 2010. The company cleans old batteries, measures charge capacity and changes out degraded battery cells, giving second-hand batteries a lifespan. longer.

They can be reused in cars and also for storing solar energy.

“Battery reuse will help increase the value of electric vehicles,” Horie said. He added that the company has so far collected thousands of Leaf batteries that have been returned to Nissan dealerships.

In the future, 4R Energy also wants to recycle batteries by recovering the metals used inside the cells.

According to BCC Research, an American market research firm, the global market for battery reuse and recycling technologies is expected to reach $8.4 billion by 2026.

Alejandro L. Myatt