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.

The Current Realities that the Electric Vehicle Revolution Faces


The electric car revolution is facing another uphill climb and is in great danger of stalling. The first major sign is the decision by General Motors to suspend the production of its flagship Volt plug-in. Second sign is the bricking issues with Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadsters.

The major reason for the work stoppage for the Volt is the slow sales of the units currently available in the market. As for the Roadster and Leaf, warranty cancellation issues as well as the public relations issues associated with the technology and its expensive replacement costs.

All these have affected the market, as the buzz has cooled down as seen in the lesser promotion of the electric car in this year’s Geneva Auto Show. Many observers say that reality is setting in since the current vehicle platforms still have more questions that answers in their availability.

One such observer is Peter Schwarzenbauer, Audi’s Head of Marketing. Despite these issues, many other auto executives firmly believe that electric vehicles would remain a major force in the market. While some believe, others are bullish and foremost among them is Carlos Ghosn, current head of Renault-Nissan.

At the opening of the Geneva Car Show, there is more focus on traditional internal combustion engines with emphasis on emissions and fuel efficiency. Last year, a show visitor would leave with the impression that plug in electric cars would be the norm by the next year.

Many still are keeping the faith, amongst them is Dieter Zetsche, the Chief Executive Officer of Daimer, the German car and truck maker. He and many others believe that in the coming decade carmakers would still continue to find fuel sources that is not fossil or carbon based. He said, “There is no alternative. We believe it is our responsibility to push this technology forward and make it marketable.”

For its part, Daimler is offering an electric version of its two-seat Smart car costing about 16,000 euros or US$21,000. The company is continuously developing hydrogen-fueled vehicles. Zetsche notes the many issues with emission-free vehicles, such as mass-market base, lack of infrastructure, limited range and the continued high cost of the technology.

The market players still high hopes with the market. The Opel Ampera, the European version of the Chevy Volt has been adjudged as the European Car of the Year. For Nissan, it is expecting to double its sales to 50,000 units in the United States. Renault is introducing to the market its very own battery powered compact car, the Renault Zoe. BMW is set to introduce the battery-powered iSeries by the end of the year.

Just a small hiccup for the full electric car revolution.

Nissan Becomes Picky Seller


Nissan Motors, in its recent move, may actually turn down potential purchasers of its all-electric Leaf hatchback. The purchasers may need to “qualify” to purchase the Aus$51,500 plus on-road costs all electric vehicle from the Japanese automaker.

The company would assess the purchaser as to the home charging set up, the distance of the daily commute and other items that the company says would only ensure that the Leaf would meet the buyer’s needs and expectations.

According to Nissan Australia Sales and Fleet General Manager, Mr. Ian Moreillon, “We want to qualify you that the car is suitable for you. We don’t want people driving it and then find it doesn’t fit their requirements.”

The first public orders would be received by February 2012 and the Leaf would be much more expensive than the Mitsubishi MiEV, tagged at Aus$48,800 but cheaper than the Holden Volt, which is tagged at Aus$60,000.

The lowest priced EV currently in the Australian market is the Renault Fluence ZE (Zero Emissions) sedan that currently sells for less than Aus$40,000. This basement price though does not include the battery array, which the company would offer to its purchasers through a leasing agreement. Renault is Nissan’s sister company.

Comparatively, the Leaf’s price includes the battery array but there is no charging dock that is included for the home. This is one of the recommendations of the company to potential purchasers of the electric vehicle. The company further added that the set-up costs for the home charging unit would depend on the home wiring configuration, within Aus$1,200 for a home with modern wiring. For greater complexities or older homes, the cost can run up to a couple of thousand of dollars.

He adds, “You don’t just buy a Nissan Leaf, get it delivered, take it home and then ask what you’re going to do about charging it. We want to have charging equipment integrated into the process — how we do that is what we’re still discussing. So when a customer does take their car home, the charger is there on the wall ready to go.”

Nissan is also concentrating on upcoming fast charge networks that would become commonplace in shopping centers and business car parks. These chargers are able to recharge up to 80 percent of the capacity in just thirty minutes. On the other hand, its sister company, Renault would be focusing on an entirely different EV infrastructure set up featuring battery swap stations.

Nissan maintains that the Leaf is the highest selling electric car in the history of the car industry with more than 20,000 cars sold worldwide in just its first year.

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.