Having written in the summer on Nissan’s new Leaf all electric car, we can now announce the release of details on their partner Renault’s line up of four electric models. According to a Telegraph article they have a saloon, a compact hatchback, a quirky two-seater and the model they showed to the UK press this month an all electric Kangoo van. As the least sexy of the four, the Kangoo may seem like an odd choice to release to the press but on closer examination there is sound logic to Renault’s decision. Two of the major hurdles that electric vehicles have is concerns about a) upfront costs (it has been likened to buying a car with the first 5 years of gas included in the price) and b) short range combined with lack of charging points. Commercial buyers such as fleet operators however tend to evaluate vehicle costs over the total life of ownership, and so will be more receptive to the long term potential economies of electric vehicles. Fleet operators are more likely to invest in charging facilities in their garages or depots and to run predetermined routes allowing charging schedules to be planned in advance.
Renault claims it will have the broadest range of all electric vehicles on the market when they are released for sale in 2012 but they will be up against plenty of competition from Ford, GM, Toyota, Audi and even Daimler. Toyota has always backed the hybrid model saying consumers will not be willing to make the compromises an all electric vehicle entails but nevertheless they too are hedging their bets by planning to release an ELV in 2012.
Everyone accepts the concept is not going to get off the ground without subsidies, incentives and outright bribes. The British government has announced incentives worth £250m for electric cars, from 2011. The money will support subsidies of £2,000 to £5,000 per vehicle, as well as funds to develop a recharging infrastructure.
The cost of batteries remains a key constraint. Renault plans to remove both issues around the charging time and the up front cost premium attached to electric cars by using “quick-drop technology that allows flat batteries to be replaced with ready charged ones. The company will lease them to consumers they say bringing down the price of its plug-in cars to those of comparable diesel models. A substantial infrastructure will be required for battery swapping to work and it remains to be seen if it can be rolled out effectively beyond major conurbations.
Meanwhile the enthusiasm from some corners of the industry, from governments and from the environmental lobby goes on. A bubble in ELV and battery production is almost certainly in the making, and may be is a necessary requirement if innovation and cost structures are to be achieved. MM’s view is we will probably be looking back on this in 2015 with amusement and 95% of us will still be driving internal combustion engines of one sort or another.