Carlos Ghosn, the Undisputed Electric Car Leader in Geneva

By · March 07, 2012

Carlos Ghosn unveils the electric Renault Zoe in Geneva

Carlos Ghosn unveils the electric Renault Zoe in Geneva.

There was only one new electric car in Geneva this year. Some had expected an electric version of the wonderful new Mercedes A-Class, but it wasn't there. Nor was the plug-in hybrid version of the new Mitsubishi Outlander. There was only a mock-up of its drivetrain next to the standard diesel version. It will be introduced later this year in the Japanese market, before being available globally in 2013.

The Tesla Model S was in Switzerland, but it proved to be a huge disappointment. With the car scheduled to be available in about three months, many had expected to see a production version, but the car on display was far from that. The two, small, rear-facing, third-row seats are strictly for children, and the back seat didn't look much more inviting. And I haven't seen a rear bench seat without a middle armrest for years. Seats have fixed headrests which looked far too low. I'm a normal guy, but at 6'3" I can't fit in the back seat of a Tesla Model S. A BMW 3-Series is much roomier. Then there are design faults - when the door is closed, it bumps the dashboard.

The door handle bumps into the dashboard in a Tesla Model S.

The door handle bumps into the dashboard in a Tesla Model S.

Obviously, Tesla means well. They've chosen good materials, but the build quality is terrible, much below that of a base Chevrolet Sonic. Of course, this is entirely excusable since the car on display in Geneva was not a regular production model. But it was surprising to find out there's so much left to do to make the car worthy of its pricetag.

Happily, there was also good news for electrics in Geneva. The day before the opening of the show, the Opel Ampera, the European version of the Chevrolet Volt, had won the European Car of the Year title. Opel said it has already received more than 7,000 orders - considering the car launched in December, this is a very good start. The Ampera should be the best-selling plug-in this year in Europe. GM has a winner on its hands.

Opel Ampera wins the European Car of the Year title.

Opel Ampera wins the European Car of the Year title.

Nissan announced they've sold more than 25,000 Leafs around the world, but that's not much considering all the attention the car received. When the Renault-Nissan alliance announced its grand electric car plans, most other car makers adopted a prudent wait-and-see attitude. Only Renault soldiered on.

Thanks to the alliance, Renault and Nissan have the same manager, and quite frankly, if you're an EV fan, you should get a Carlos Ghosn T-shirt. Nobody in the world is doing more than Ghosn to promote electric cars. He launched the Renault Zoe in Geneva. Compared to a Leaf which looks uninspired, the Zoe is fresh and inviting. It's smaller, it's Yaris-sized, but with a cuter look, more like a Toyota Aqua. It also has 20 percent more range than a Leaf. Nissan says a Leaf can drive 175 km; a Renault Zoe can do 210 km. It sells for €20,700 in France, but that price doesn't include the battery which rents for €79 a month. Orders start today, with delivery scheduled for November.

New to EVs? Start here

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