Filed under: Transport
By Seth Masia
Renault-Nissan will introduce an all-electric vehicle (EV) in the United States by 2010, the company announced on Mar. 5. It’s apparently part of a world-wide strategy of charging-station build-outs involving Silicon Valley start-up Project Better Place (PBP), NEC, and the Israeli government.
Back on Jan. 21, PBP announced an agreement with Renault-Nissan to introduce EVs on a national scale in Israel. Surrounded by unfriendly oil-rich neighbors, Israel must import its fossil fuel needs circuitously. Gasoline sells for about NIS 6.25 per liter, or about $6.15 per gallon. No wonder the country has long been a leader in solar energy technology.
Under a long-term contract with PBP, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to a 90 percent cut in new-car taxes through 2019 ― for EVs only. In return, PBP will market a line of Renault-Nissan EVs powered by NEC batteries, and support them with a network of 500,000 recharging stations. Renault-Nissan is now designing an EV version of its popular Mégane family sedan, for introduction by 2011. In the meantime, the company can supply the Kangoo delivery van, already marketed in both EV and plug-in hybrid versions in Europe and Iceland. Customers would buy the cars, then lease the batteries along with the right to recharge and exchange them, on an monthly mileage-based contract analogous to the way cell phone minutes are sold.
During the Jan. 21 press conference, PBP founder Shai Agassi told reporters that “within 100 days” he would sign up a second nation for a PBP EV program. On Jan. 24 he flew, with Olmert and an Israeli trade delegation, to Japan. Japan is another nation with short commutes, a fast-moving technology culture and expensive gasoline: Y151 per liter, or $5.67 per gallon.
But at the end of March, he announced that Denmark has joined the coalition, and will build 20,000 charging stations powered exclusively by off-shore wind turbines.
In July, Portugal signed up.
PBP launched last October, with $200 million in venture capital funding. Agassi, an Israeli-American who recently departed a senior position at SAP, the German software giant, pointed out that Israel is a perfect test market for EVs. It has short commutes (90 percent of Israeli cars do under 45 miles per day), a culture attuned to rapid technology change and a climate conducive to good battery performance. Renault has agreed to redesign its EV car to accommodate a standard charge or a rapid swap-out of the NEC battery pack, which would enable cars to resume travel after a stop comparable to today’s gasoline fill-up. If consumers go for it, PBP could extend the recharging infrastructure to other national markets. The model makes good sense for Israel and Japan, but is questionable for the vast distances of the U.S. What makes sense would be for PBP and Renault-Nissan to market EVs in specific warm-weather commuting areas, like Silicon Valley, with short driving distances and the appropriate attitude toward new technology and clean energy.
The new EVs may be made in new Renault-Nissan factories going up in India and Morocco ― or even in Russia.
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