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EV sales hinge on favourable ‘ecosystem’, says Renault

Kan-doo: Renault says electric vehicles like its Kangoo can still succeed despite the lack of government incentives.

Renault Kangoo ZE chief says EVs can be viable without direct government subsidies

26 May 2014

THE lack of direct government subsidies does not mean the Australian car industry cannot build a viable market for electrified vehicles, according to Renault’s global deputy program director for the battery-powered Kangoo ZE delivery van, Eric Feunteun.

But Mr Feunteun says any country that wants to create a more fertile environment for the rollout of electrified vehicles must at least make available other perks that improve the ownership experience and offset the high financial cost of adoption.

Citing the example of Germany, which currently has no direct government subsidies for EV purchases, Mr Feunteun said that as long as other incentives were available, a “viable” market could be established, especially among fleet buyers willing to bear the cost in order to enhance their profile.

“It’s a full ecosystem you need to create for EVs in a country and of course financial items are quite important, but Germany, for example, where there is no incentives shows that you can develop an EV market where there are no incentives but other ‘bricks’ in the system,” he said.

“Of course, when you have all the bricks, which is Norway for the best example, you reach for that 10 per cent of the total market … and the speed to reach that, incentives are one way, and clearly it is very important at the beginning to launch the technology, but we also support non-financial benefits.

“We talk about (designated) parking places, priority driving in bus lanes, all things that make the life of the driver easier, that’s all part of the ecosystem you need to create, also of course a charging spot … though clearly at the beginning of the technology incentives are a clear accelerator.” He said government incentives are particularly beneficial early on in helping EVs take hold before momentum kicks in through word of mouth and broader social acceptance, meaning taxpayer support can be reduced over time.

Mr Feunteun was in Australia last week to advise Renault’s Australian arm on how to best support future EV clients, the first of which is Australia Post, which this week commences a 12-month trial of four electric vans which will be used for inner-city parcel delivery.

The fact that the ZE emits no engine noise also makes it ideal for night-time work. Mr Feunteun also cited data that shows the average commute for an inner-city delivery van was about 70km, less than the ZE’s circa-100km real-world driving range.

The Australia Post trial will add to a global data set to which numerous postal services around the globe contribute. The French postal service alone operates 4000 of the 14,000 Kangoo ZEs produced so far.

Notably, Germany has been a big supporter of pilot projects such as this as well, with most EV sales going to corporate and fleet sales.

Mr Feunteun said the Australia Post trial was the best approach for Renault because the only way to make EV technology break through was to get people behind the wheel.

“The best way to develop it is to show how it can work, make drivers realise the benefits of no noise etc,” he said.

“On EV you cannot talk on theory, you have to show the reality, so the best way is to do trials … Often a user is the best promoter.” Both Mr Feunteun and Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar are keen to explore other potential tie-ins, with the company already having received interest from several other fleets.

“We will always remain open to new opportunities to grow and build. There’s a lot to learn for the fleet operators and us to learn how we can best support them, so the rules that would normally apply to a conventional vehicle launch need to be reconsidered,” Mr Hocevar said.

“The public and private sector may help bring about some other trials over time, though we aren’t talking large numbers here, it’s still small steps.

“Without any hard contracts in negotiation or being further down the line with the potential clients were speaking to, it’s hard to put a fixed timeline.

“We won’t commit ourselves to setting a volume of cars, we’re going to talk with prospective customers that work with us directly to develop the business over time, and then once we’ve got to a comfortable level we can say, ‘Okay, we’ re now properly open for business.’”

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