The Renault Zoe’s Importance


If you are from the United States, you may have just heard about the Renault Zoe in car shows or online discussions but this subcompact is being girded to be the most important European vehicle in the decade.

Why so? It is built by one of the largest European automakers, Renault, through partnerships with Nissan. Nissan’s flagship in the electric revolution is its iconic all-electric Leaf. How the market accepts the Zoe will determine the future of all electric cars in Europe in the long run. This is because there are quite a number of subcompacts as well as diesel compact cars in Europe. Many car owners live in multiple dwelling housing plans without their own garages, making the European car market a tougher sell for any carmaker let alone an all electric car maker.

Another factor is that France’s reliance on nuclear power creates a better option when looking at the greenhouse gas emissions coal fired electricity plants generated. France also has experience with electric vehicles, with the AutoLib electric car-sharing program placing nearly two thousand Bollore Blue Cars for use within the capital region. Thus electric cars are not new to the French public and there is a clear understanding on how carbon emissions impacts the environment.

The Zoe utilizes a 66 kWh electric motor able to generate 162 lb/ft of torque, with power coming from its 22 kWh lithium ion battery pack. According to the NEDC, Europe’s equivalent to the U.S. EPA, the vehicle has a range of 210 km on a single full charge. It has a top speed of 135 km/h and utilizes a fast charging ‘Cameleon’ system, allowing the car battery to be charged between thirty minutes to nine hours depending on the power input. This design is a five door hatchback and full blown production commenced in 2012.

With its very simple compact design and specifications, one of the major hurdles for its full acceptance is the infrastructure involved in making the Zoe the most used vehicle on French roads. One of the issues is the lack of public charging stations and there is still a conflict on whether volume dictates the infrastructure or the infrastructure would come before the volume of cars.

The simplest reason why the Zoe is of utmost importance is that there is no gasoline version. It’s either the Zoe or bust they say.

The Largest Electric Car Maker


The unanimous choice of carmaker having the largest range of electric vehicles is French automaker Renault. This lead though by the company may be for just a short time, as many other carmakers are increasing capacity to topple Renault from the top of the list.

Renault is just a symptom of the focus of France's on investments in renewable energy sources. The creative programs instituted by both the French public and private sectors include electric car use, increased spending for infrastructure for electric vehicles and electric car sharing schemes for the public. Aside from the current programs, France has committed to an increase in the charging infrastructure of the country.

The money allocation though is still quite minimal at a measly U.S.$65 million, the programs are well dispersed. These include subsidies to charging stations in public areas as well as those on private properties that serve as places of business. The government is also encouraging the private sector in supporting these programs through the installation of charging points. The impetus is encourage and not draconian requirements to comply with existing clean energy programs of the country.

Another major spending area is the increase in the bonus incentive to EV purchasers, which now stands at U.S.$9000. Governmental transport is also set to target twenty five percent to be either hybrids and EVs within the next year alone.

One major reason for such aggressive EV programs is the partnership between Nissan, the Japanese auto giant and Renault. This is showcased in the unveiling of four vehicles that is expected to take off under the current thrust for electric vehicle use in the country. These include the Twizy, a two seater city car, the Zoe subcompact, the Fluence compact sedan and the Kangoo ZE delivery van.

The Twizy is expected to sell especially in crowded roads of Europe’s cities while the Fluence is the flagship of the Better Place battery swap service. The Zoe on the other hand would cost only U.S.$21,000 after benefits, thus making it nearly affordable as conventional vehicles in the market.

Many of the program proponents are convinced that many car owners would opt for electric car vehicles once they are given the opportunity to drive one. This together with France’s subsidies and infrastructure developments can surely make France the biggest electric car center in Europe and the world in no time at all.

Paris Offers Ground Breaking EV Car Sharing


The socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, and billionaire investor Vincent Bollore, are taking the electric car revolution to another level. They are now deep into planning to create an electric vehicle partnership dubbed as Autolib. Here, they plan to change the current thinking on urban mobility through provision of creative alternatives to pollution contributing cars with the end of improving air quality in the city.

This coming Sunday, the Autolib project would roll out sixty-six ultra compact Bluecars at charging stations throughout the city of lights for a two-month period, to help educate the Parisian masses on the system and gain feedback in order to iron out the issues before the program goes online. In the long run, officials hope to have 3,000 zero emission four seater Bluecars in the streets of Paris. It also aims to have 1,000 charging stations in Paris and surrounding cities by 2012’s end.

It is hoped that the program can convince urban dwellers needing access to a vehicle would not choose ownership and instead use the service to rent the electric vehicles. This saves the Parisian the hassles of paying for fuel, insurance costs, taxes and maintenance on an owned vehicle.

The first step in the program was opened in 2007 and currently the consortium has advertised together with infrastructure building throughout the city and surrounding communities. The program has also allowed individuals to pay a small annual fee to be allowed to use a bicycle up to 45 minutes free of charge. This bicycle program is called Velib and has been successful in Paris. There are now 20,000 bicycles in use and has been profitable despite the thefts and vandalism for some units. This pilot program now goes into the next stage, the Autolib.

Bollore is expected to invest nearly $265 million in Autolib. He would also need to pay €750 for each parking space for the electric vehicles but would receive all the revenues for the milestone electric vehicle program. With current projections Bollore expects to make money only after seven years of operation. Despite such dismal projections, he is upbeat about the project in the long term.

This program would be his flagship to promote his Bluecar vehicle line. The vehicles are built through a joint venture partnership between his Bollore Group and Italian design company Pininfarina. It would also showcase the vehicle’s lithium-metal-polymer batteries which the partnership invested €1.5 billion to develop the technology. The Bluecars beat out Smart and Renault, with a top speed 130 kilometers per hour  and with a range of 250 kilometers on a single charge. It can accelerate from 0 to 60 kph in 6.3 seconds. The car uses hybrid-car technology to recycle the energy in braking to recharge the batteries.

Autolib is projected to be the largest and highest profile car-sharing program in the world. It is not the first though, as the Zipcar program in Cambridge, Massachusetts currently has 600,000 members, with 9,000 vehicles serving 28 states in the United States, parts of Canada and the United Kingdom.

Renault Takes Action on Alleged Industrial Espionage


Renault, the leading French car manufacturer, has taken legal action against three of its employees regarding allegations of industrial espionage.

There have been formal letters of termination sent to Michel Balthazard, Bertrand Rochette and Matthieu Tenenbaum. Balthazard and Rochette worked in the Renault Management Committee, particularly on the company’s electric car program. Balthazard supervised Rochette, who have both received the termination notices, while Tenenbaum was the former deputy director of Renault’s electric vehicle program is yet to receive the said letter.

According to Balthazard’s lawyer, Xavier Thouvenin stated “The letter basically says: ‘You received a substantial sum of money from a foreign source, leading us to the conviction that you have given what is probably strategic information in exchange.’ ” He further added, “The word ‘conviction’ is very important (to me). They’re saying: ‘We found out you have money, therefore you must have sold information. But that’s a long way from saying they have proof that he did something wrong.” They plan to sue the company for wrongful dismissal.

The three men were placed under suspension after Renault conducted an investigation that found that secrets of its electric vehicle program were allegedly sold to a third party. From there, the company filed a criminal complaint against all three claiming that they had perpetrated “organized industrial espionage, corruption, breach of trust, theft and concealment.”

The investigation was prompted by an anonymous letter to which investigators found substantial amounts of money were deposited to accounts of the three individuals. All three had access to corporate secrets on Renault’s electric car program and the secrets were supposedly funneled to a Chinese company. All three men deny the charges and proclaim their innocence.

Central to the information leaked were vehicle design, pricing and business plans. The company is still determining whether technological information was also stolen, such as the technology to lower the cost per kilowatt-hour of battery capacity. This alone can make Renault’s electric vehicle program leave the competition in its dust. The company, together with its Japanese partner Nissan, is also about to unveil three new vehicles: a family saloon (the Fluence), a small van (the Kangoo be bop), a supermini-sized hatchback (the Zoe) and the two-seater runabout (the Twizy).

Not only has this case affected the French company. The French government has a 15% stake in Renault and the French Industry Minister, Eric Besson has discussed an “economic war”. He announced that draft legislation is being prepared to protect corporate and technological information of French industry makers in the same manner as defense secrets. The Chinese government has also denied any involvement of the government or any Chinese company in this matter.