A €4,800 Electric Car?
When France's Minister of Ecology Madame Ségolène Royal announced the French government's desire to spur the development of a low-cost electric vehicle, she noted that what might come out of the competition might not actually resemble the familiar automobile planform of the last century. It could be something radically different.
Mme Royal also suggested that one way to reduce EV costs was a "batteries not include" strategy. Owners of such a vehicle would lease or rent the batteries, swapping them when needed, a concept tried many times over the history of electric cars dating back to the late 19th century when early public transit buses exchanged batteries when they were depleted. Few of those experiments, with the exception of warehouse forklifts, have proved enduring, the most recent example being Better Place.
The Minister said that she'd like to see an electric vehicle that cost no more than €7,000 ($7,712US) so that many more people could afford to own them instead of the millions of dirty diesels now running around France, frequently generating so much air pollution that the government has to implement frequent vehicle bans. Mme Royal said that she hoped to even come wup with a vehicle costing less than €5,000. Is such a scheme feasible?
France already has one possible contender, the Renault Twizy, an electric runabout designed specifically for urban mobility and costing under €7,000 (€6,990).
Going with the "batteries not included" strategy, an even cheaper option would be something akin go the Tata Nano, an electric prototype of which was built for show, but never produced. The Nano was originally introduced as the "world's cheapest car" at the equivalent of just $2,500US. That price has now increased closer to $3,300US, still pretty cheap, though it would require some major re-engineering since it couldn't pass European crash safety tests.
But if Mme Royal is looking for really, really, really cheap EVs, she need look no further than Alibaba where there are all kinds of ridiculously low-cost Chinese-made electric vehicles advertised. Of course, there's an old saying in the engineering world that you can have a product made fast, good or cheap, but only two of the three: take your pick.
One of the more promising French approaches that might have qualified for the first two: fast and good, until they were forced to declare bankruptcy in 2013 was the Lumeneo SMERA two-seater. The narrow body, leaning, all-electric vehicle certainly fit the "not-your-normal-car" criteria. Pictured above, it had a range up to 90 miles (144 km) and a top speed of 80 mph (128 km/h). But at more than $30,000US a copy, it was just too expensive. The company, founded by Daniel and Thierry Moulène, sold only 10 of the vehicles, far short of their original 500 unit goal. It would have not only reduced air pollution, but also dramatically improved traffic congestion. It would also have been a blast to drive.
Maybe it's time to revive the idea.
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