Daimler, Renault Team Up on Electric Car Tech

It’s official: The 800-pound green car gorilla has arrived. Executives from Daimler (s DAI) and Renault-Nissan (s NSANY) Alliance this morning in Brussels announced a comprehensive partnership to share powertrains and architecture for compact cars and light commercial vehicles. Among other projects, the companies plan to cooperate on electric versions of Daimler’s Smart Fortwo and Renault’s Twingo, and explore “opportunities to co-develop technologies related to electric vehicles and batteries.”

Jointly developed models, including next-gen versions of the Fortwo and Twingo as well as a new four-seat Smart car, are slated to start rolling out in 2013. “Right from its market launch,” Renault explained in its release Wednesday, “the jointly developed future models will also be available with an electric drive.”

In an effort to cut costs, the partners plan to standardize a number of components used in fuel-efficient gas and diesel engines. As Renault explains, the goal “is to increase competitiveness of all partners through a substantial increase in volumes, leading to economies of scale and cost sharing in development.”

Automakers are looking to cut costs far and wide following the industry’s downturn. But it’s particularly important for the success of plug-in vehicles. Pricing for the earliest models of these cars is coming in at the high end for mass market vehicles — a challenge for mainstream adoption.

Renault and Nissan have made it their goal to dominate the global electric vehicle market, and more recently Daimler has shown a sense of urgency to carve out a piece of that market — a potentially multibillion-dollar opportunity by the company’s estimates. In addition to investing in a battery joint venture, Daimler last spring took a 10 percent stake in electric carmaker Tesla Motors (the German automaker later sold a portion of its stake to Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments). For 1,400 trial versions of Daimler’s electric Smart Fortwo, Tesla is supplying the battery packs and chargers.

As part of today’s agreement, Daimler and the French-Japanese allies said today they will exchange equity in a deal amounting to a 3.1 percent stake in the two other partners for each automaker.

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