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Renault refutes EV fears

Local inFluence: Renault will launch its first local EV – the Fluence ZE – in the middle of this year.

Education vital to break down EV fears and convert buyers, says local Renault boss

23 Mar 2012

RENAULT Australia admits consumers require a lot more education before they are ready to buy electric vehicles, including the breaking down of some irrational fears.

The company’s managing director, Justin Hocevar, told GoAuto that people needed to understand that EVs were as safe, if not safer, than regular vehicles.

“They shouldn’t have concerns any greater than those they have about any other electrical appliance they use in their day-to-day lives,” said Mr Hocevar.

“We’re acutely aware of a lot of preconceptions that exist around the safety of electricity, around range and the various other issues that need to be overcome for people to truly understand EVs.”

Mr Hocevar said he was disappointed with comments made by former Toyota Australia executive chairman John Conomos, who told the recent Cars of Tomorrow conference that many people, often women, have unfounded fears about electrocution, driving through water and forgetting to unplug an EV before driving off.

“I found it difficult to understand why there is a discussion of concerns about electrocution and driving into water when EVs are operating on 400-volt battery systems which are no different to the 400-volt battery systems that have existed in the hybrid vehicles that Toyota has been selling for the last 10 years,” said Mr Hocevar.

 center imageLeft: Justin Hocevar. Below: Renault Zoe and Mini E.

“As professionals in the industry we all need to focus to ensure the correct messages are getting out there.

“It is important to note that the investment in the development of EVs is substantial and the testing and development work that is going into EVs is equal, if not greater, to that going into ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles.

“This is new territory, but brands such as Renault have been investing heavily. We are already over €4 billion in investment in EVs. There are currently 2500 people dedicated to the development of EVs in the Renault/Nissan alliance.”

Renault is in the throes of releasing its Fluence ZE (zero emissions) electric car around the world. It will reach Australian showrooms in the middle of 2012.

Of course, the average suburban car buyer does not see the R&D activity, and Mr Hocevar said that market research results showed there was little widespread knowledge about EVs among car buyers.

But he stressed that consumers were apt to change their mindset quickly once they had some experience of EVs.

“In very broad terms, (the research) shows there is still a low level of understanding in the market. That means, as an industry, we have a lot of work to do in educating the consumer.”“However, where EV trials have been done, it seems people adapt to EVs very quickly and a lot of their concerns are allayed very quickly. They seem to learn to live with their cars without any great concern.”

He said the early results from the Victorian Government’s EV trial were interesting, as were the results from the BMW trial using Mini Es in the UK.

“The results from a UK trial published about 12 months ago, around the Mini E, were very interesting, particularly on range.

“People went from thinking they had to plug their vehicle in at every single point of call to better understanding their vehicle’s range. Once they knew how well the vehicle accommodated that range, they went to charging every second or third day.

“A lot of indicators out there suggest there are going to be ongoing and substantial increases in energy prices.

“We already have a view that, in terms of the well-to-wheel cost (of petrol and diesel) relative to electricity costs – even if it was not taken from green energy, but from less-efficient means of generating electricity – we already have a favorable situation.

“This is only going to improve with the ongoing development of green energy sources and, obviously, as the balance continues to tip with soaring oil prices.”

Mr Hocevar dismissed the notion that EVs would not be of any benefit in Victoria, where a large proportion of the electricity supply comes from the burning of brown coal, one of the ‘dirtiest’ ways of producing electricity.

“The calculations we see suggest that, even if we use brown-coal electricity in EVs … it still has less impact on the environment and it is still cheaper than the well-to-wheel equation as we know it.

“We don’t even go back as far as oil exploration, but the drilling, refining, distribution – globally and on a local basis – and the ultimate consumption in an ICE, is worse for the environment that using brown-coal electricity in EVs.”

And, given Victoria is stuck with brown coal generators for a while yet, Mr Hocevar said we should take advantage of their advantages.

“Brown coal stations don’t get turned off at night, meaning there is excess generating capacity at that time as I understand. Through off-peak charging, EVs have the ability to take advantage of that excess capacity.”

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