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Renault Oz says no for now to electric cars

Post it notes: Renault said it is collecting valuable information through its Australia Post fleet trial with Kangoo ZE EVs delivering the mail.

Renault’s local boss said the brand won’t sell EVs until incentives are offered

Renault logo28 Nov 2014

By RICHARD BERRY

RENAULT does not plan to sell an electric vehicle (EV) in Australia until the government offers buyers incentives and sufficient charging infrastructure is put in place, the car-maker’s local boss has told to GoAuto.

Speaking at the media drive of the RS 275 Megane Trophy in Tasmania, Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar said that despite BMW’s i3 going on sale here this month and Audi’s A3 e-tron arriving in March 2015 the French brand has decided to hold off selling an EV, for now.

“We’re at a point where we’ve made a very conscious decision not to take a traditional approach to launching a zero-emission electric vehicle,” he said.

“We see others are doing it, they announce what’s coming, they’ll hold a press launch, they’ll hold dealer training, they’ll communicate the new product, they’ll wholesale it to their dealers, it’s in the showroom floors and there’s not a lot happening. We don’t want to take that approach.

“We think there’s a category job to be done here, that it’s still early days in terms of acceptance and understanding in the Australian market. There needs to be a greater commitment from government at state and federal levels to perhaps consider some very low-cost, low-impact initiatives to help promote the category and to help understand what this part of our future automotive landscape is going to look like. It’s not going to go away, there’s this high degree of inevitability about it.”

Renault Australia’s current position on EVs follows an unsuccessful venture with global electric vehicle infrastructure company Better Place. The partnership, which began in 2011, envisioned Better Place providing charging stations and also running a battery swap program compatible with Renault’s Fluence ZE.

A small number of stations opened around Australia, but in May 2013 Better Place filed for liquidation.

Until this point Renault was seen as one of the driving forces of the Australian EV industry and Mr Hocevar concedes that it has taken a different tact now with a focus on providing fleet options to businesses with its Kangoo ZE light-commercial EV.

“There’s no doubt about it that our early ambitions with regards to EV, particularly the Fluence ZE, was heavily driven through the global partnership with Better Place and obviously that came to an end,” he said.

“At the moment our focus is on Kangoo ZE, that’s where we have the most interest and that is coming from big business that run fleets and they don’t necessarily have the same economic equation mould being placed over a small van fleet.”

In May this year Renault and its major fleet partner Australia Post announced the start of a 12-month trial which of four Kangoo ZE Maxi EVs delivering parcels in Melbourne and Sydney. Mr Hocevar said the project is still in its early stages but much information is being gained.

“It’s early days and it is a trial. We’ve still got another two vehicles to get into operation and we hope to see that happen very soon,” he said.

“We’re gathering a lot of data out of this – there’s some technology incorporated into the vehicles that will help us get a really good understanding of how the vehicles operate and how the drivers work with the vehicle. That’s the sort of work that needs to be done so that we know how to do better business going forward.” Mr Hocevar said that while Renault is not ready to sell electric vehicles in Australia a small number of businesses have still been asking for them. He said if incentives such as tax savings or registration discounts were offered more companies would take up the technology.

“There’s a lot of businesses that are running back-to-base vehicles for example that are not doing huge kilometres on a daily basis and operating in these urban environments. They could quite easily live with an EV now,” he said.

“I don’t necessarily mean a Kangoo ZE, a Zoe could be a great example if you talk about a pathology and nursing or home services business.”

Launched globally in 2013 the Renault Zoe is a small five-door hatch powered by a 65kW/220Nm electric motor. Mr Hocevar told GoAuto in July last year that it was still on the cards for Australia but a lack of government incentives was making the case to bring it out hard. This week he said the situation remains the same.

“It’s not off the agenda,” he said.

“I guess when the time is right it’s a car that we’d like to bring to Australia. But at the moment the value gap between a small internal combustion engine vehicle of a similar size is too great. There needs to be something of a user incentive in place.”

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