Renault Aims to Be Europe’s EV Provider
Anybody considering a new all-electric car these days is certainly aware of Nissan’s intention to become a market leader. As we approach the dawn of a new EV era in the United States, the Nissan LEAF stands out as the most immediate, practical and affordable all-electric car just about to hit the street. What’s less known is the goal of Renault—Nissan’s sister company—to take the EV lead in Europe.
This week the carmaker confirmed that it will launch not one, but a family of four electric cars in the next two years. The lineup includes a sedan, a mini-car, a city car, and a light commercial van. Europe’s streets are amenable to an array of cars with small and smaller sizes, whereas America’s aversion to wee-mobiles means a smaller selection.
Yet, I wouldn't expect the exact shape and design of the Renault offerings—especially the Twizy and Zoe—to remain as they do in their current concept form. As it stands, they are designed more as eye candy for European auto shows, than for real streets.
Renault will also cover quite a bit of ground with its production locations: The Twizy will be built at Renault’s Valladolid plant in Spain; the Zoe supermini at Flins in France; the Kangoo van at Villiers-Saint-Frederic in France; and the Fluence saloon in Bursa, Turkey.
The U.K.’s Autocar website projects retail prices—after government incentives—as follows: £19k for the Fluence Z.E. and £14k for the Zoe Z.E. The Twizy Z.E., as a scooter-like vehicle, doesn’t qualify for the EV discount, but it’s expected to cost about £6000 when it comes to market in 2012.
Rather than selling the batteries that will power these vehicles along with the cars themselves, Renault has chosen to lease its packs—starting about about £70 a month. The deal may help to give piece of mind to consumers who are worried about the durability and longevity of early-generation lithium ion vehicle batteries, but more importantly it will allow Renault to charge a premium to drivers who use their cars more often. That arrangement is likely to save the company money on battery replacement while providing at least nominal savings to drivers who use their cars less frequently.
And in a move that might be a bit unnerving to some, Renault says it will use GPRS transponders to track vehicles and determine whether their drivers have been paying the correct lease price. Vehicles whose owners fail to keep up with their lease payments can even be remotely disabled if the company chooses to do so.
All of these small cars, contrived pricing schemes and Big Brother-like monitoring tactics may seem a bit foreign to American consumers, but that's precisely what they are. The American and European auto markets have always been different, so it should come as no surprise that their approaches to electrified transportation would be as well. Renault expects to yield 200,000 EV sales annually by 2016—with the diminutive Zoe accounting for three-quarters of those units. It's an ambitious goal—and perhaps one that would be impossible to reach by anyone but a European carmaker responding specifically to the needs of European drivers.
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