(Adds CEO comments on Renault talks, Sakura EV and Google)
NEW YORK, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co Chief Executive Makoto Uchida said he was "very confident" the Japanese automaker could strengthen its partnership with Renault but declined to comment on the likelihood the automakers would announce a restructured alliance this month.
“Renault has a direction it must take. Nissan has a direction it has to take. And in that context, our discussions are focused on the areas where we can make each company stronger. That's the focus of discussions I look forward to continuing," he told Reuters from New York.
"How we can elevate competitiveness is the key area of discussion," Uchida said on a Zoom call, sitting in front of Nissan's Ariya electric crossover vehicle.
Nissan is considering taking a stake in a new electric car unit, called Ampere, that Renault is looking to carve out. Sources previously told Reuters the carmakers are readying plans to announce a potential restructured alliance this month.
Uchida said he expected global auto sales next year would finish below 2019 levels again, in line with the view that recession risks, record-high new car prices and supply chain constraints will weigh on sales.
“I would believe that next year is not going to be easier again,” Uchida told Reuters. “But we have to deal with that and we have to deliver value to the customer.”
Nissan is looking to build on the sold-out success it had with the Sakura electric car in Japan, Uchida said.
The Sakura, jointly developed by Nissan with its other alliance partner, Mitsubishi Motors Corp, went on sale earlier this year at a price-equivalent of just over $13,000. By contrast, the average price of a new car in the United States tops $45,000.
In the first two months of release, Nissan had orders for 23,000 of the electric-drive city cars, more than the total of all EVs sold in Japan in 2021.
“We really wanted to have the penetration of EVs to be increased,” Uchida said. “And this is a strategy we would like to take not only for Japan but also other core markets.”
Uchida said Nissan was looking at Renault's recently announced deal to make Google its preferred cloud supplier and to collaborate in areas including product design and development. He said Nissan was open to working with Renault and other partners.
"I know that our partner Renault is going in that direction and there are a lot of areas that we can follow to collaborate,” he said. “Of course, we are looking for many opportunities for partnership in the future.”
Mitsubishi is waiting until Nissan concludes its talks with Renault before it decides whether to invest in Ampere, people with knowledge of its position have said. (Reporting by Kevin Krolicki in Singapore and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Bernadette Baum)