Renault Bets on Electric Cars
By Peter Fairley
Might the most fuel-efficient vehicles in mass production--powerful hybrids, such as Toyota's Prius, that can run on either gasoline or electricity--already be destined for the science museum? That's the argument that French carmaker Renault is making at the Mondial de l'Automobile, the giant auto show running in Paris this week. Renault says that it is engineering a pair of battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs), to be produced starting in 2011, that it claims will be cheaper to build, cost markedly less to power, and produce far less carbon dioxide.
Renault's vision for electric cars is small vehicles principally designed for commuting. At the Paris show, Renault unveiled a concept car showing the design of a compact EV commuter car: an EV version of its Kangoo utility van, with startling acid-green windows to minimize air conditioning and a lithium-ion battery that carries the van 160 to 200 kilometers on an average charge. That range "really covers the usage by our customers, who are using their cars only for commuting and maybe short trips during the weekend," says Renault EV project director Serge Yoccoz. As a result, he predicts that such EVs could capture from 10 to 15 percent of the European car market as early as 2015. (Hybrids currently command just 2 percent of auto sales worldwide.)
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