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Renault puts indefinite halt on Fluence ZE in Australia

Fluent in French: Renault will delay the introduction of the Fluence ZE electric car in Australia to allow more time to roll out necessary infrastructure.

Better Place battery-swap stations up to 12 months off, Renault postpones Fluence ZE

13 Dec 2012

RENAULT has indefinitely postponed the Australian launch of its first electric vehicle, the Fluence ZE sedan, which had been due to hit Australian roads by the end of this year.

The decision has been handed down to Renault Australia by its head office in France, “in order to allow for a later roll-out of infrastructure in Australia”.

The company says it has no timetable for the release of the ZE, which was to have launched in conjunction with EV infrastructure provider Better Place.

In June 2011, Renault and Better Place committed to starting fleet trials of the Fluence ZE in Canberra by mid-2012, ahead of the local launch several months later.

The ZE (short for zero emission) was to have been from about $40,000 – at least $7000 cheaper than rival EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf (the price of which this week was cut about $8000, to $47,000 drive-away) or Holden Volt.

However, this cost would not have included the expense of leasing the battery pack from Better Place, which planned to offer limitless uses of its national battery-swap stations, as well as to install a charge box at the owner’s home or work and allow use of its public charging network.

35 center imageLeft: Renault Fluence ZE.

Better Place currently operates a small number of public charging points in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, but said today it was still up to 12 months away from opening its first battery-swap station, which will be located in Canberra.

The Fluence ZE is the only Renault production vehicle compatible with Better Place’s battery swap station system, and the car is currently on-sale in Israel and Denmark, which respectively have 33 and 17 operational swap stations up and running.

Better Place spokesperson Felicity Glennie-Holmes told GoAuto today that the company’s global head office had elected to wait for at least one year after the opening of its swap stations in Israel and Denmark before starting the roll-out in Australia.

“The battery-switch network is something that was always planned to be approximately 12-18 months behind our live market launches in Israel and Denmark, and those launches happened around the middle of this year,” she said.

“This gives us the opportunity to really learn from the lessons that we’re finding in Israel and Denmark.” Better Place Australia CEO Evan Thornley (who has since replaced founder Shai Agassi as the global CEO) told GoAuto in April 2010 that the organisation would acquire sites for its swapping stations around Australia by early 2012, and have a site in every state by 2013.

“The economics of today – with today’s battery prices, today’s electricity prices and today’s petrol prices – would make it viable for a significant proportion of vehicles to be cheaper to run as electric rather than petrol,” he said at the time.

“By the time we finish building the network around the country – which is 2013 – unless something changes from the current trend line for both battery prices and petrol prices, that will be a significant proportion of vehicles – particularly new vehicles.

The organisation previously claimed its battery-switch technology would make the Fluence ZE the world’s first “unlimited-range” electric car.

Renault Australia said today it “continues to work towards the introduction of Zero Emission vehicles” including the Zoe light-car – the local release of which has been delayed by 12 months to mid-2014 – and, potentially, the Kangoo ZE light commercial.

As reported, the car-maker appears to have gone cold on the battery swap system, designing its next-generation models with fixed battery systems – at least for launch variants – like other mass EV producers, including global Alliance partner Nissan.

Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar has previously called for the federal government to step up its involvement in EVs, telling GoAuto in September that “if the Australian government put in incentives for EVs, then Zoe would be an even more affordable proposition”.

Speaking to GoAuto today, Mr Hocevar told GoAuto: "Renault is postponing the launch of Fluence Z.E. to allow for the further rollout of both infrastructure in general and Better Place’s infrastructure. This includes the battery switch stations."In December 2008, Better Place said it planned to eventually install one million charge stations – plug-in posts similar to parking meters – in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra, and have battery exchange stations on highways linking the capitals.

In the same year, Macquarie committed to raising $1 billion to begin deploying the required infrastructure needed to keep EVs on the road.

As GoAuto reported, the former Victorian Labor state government led by John Brumby committed in 2008 to provide 250,000 charging stations in that state alone by 2012.

The ZE features a 70kW/226Nm electric motor that weighs 160kg and emits no carbon dioxide, and is powered by an air-cooled 22kWh lithium-ion battery pack situated behind the rear seats, adding 250kg, leaving boot space of 300 litres and offering a zero-emissions driving range of up to 185km.

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