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Renault exec predicts challenges facing EVs will be overcome soon

Foucher: "The goal is to sell them [EVs] in more markets and to develop the technology of the existing products."
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Renault built 11,130 units of its Zoe mass-market electric vehicle last year, according to analyst Inovev, much fewer than the 50,000 originally forecast by the automaker. Despite the slow start, Beatrice Foucher, head of Renault’s electric vehicle program, remains bullish. She is confident that solutions are coming soon that will address the lack of public charging stations in Europe and the short range of EVs. She spoke with Automotive News Europe France Correspondent Bruce Gain.

Is the small number of public charging stations in Europe holding back electric vehicle sales?

Most potential customers can charge their vehicles at home or at work. Public charging stations are necessary to reassure customers that the possibility exists on an as-needed basis even if they only use them to charge their cars occasionally.

How far behind schedule is Europe’s rollout of public charging stations?

Some countries are adding the necessary infrastructure faster than others. Norway has the highest number of charging stations, but other countries must catch up.

How will this be funded?

Most countries in Europe plan to ramp up their public charging stations with the help of EU subsidies. Different European nations are also initiating partnerships in the private sector. European aid obviously plays a large role.

How many charging stations must be built in Europe for EVs to become widely adopted?

We have said that the number of charging stations must double in Europe and the sooner that happens the better. We hope that a lot progress will be made by 2015 because there will be more plug-in hybrid electric cars entering the market by then. They can also be charged at electric charging stations. Eventually, the lack of publicly available charging stations will no longer be an issue. EVs are relatively new, so things that impede their growth need to be resolved.

Range anxiety is still an issue for EVs. Will this improve?

We have EV customers who rack up many kilometers every day. One of our private customers drives 180km a day, for example. Once public charging stations become more widely available, the range of our models will become less important. Still, autonomy is very important and is something we are actively developing. Being able to regularly drive 200km on a charge is really the threshold that customers want, which is not yet possible.

Will you offer EVs at more European dealerships?

It depends on the market. The dealership network in France is equipped to sell EVs. But in Spain, for example, EV sales are limited to a certain number of dealerships. We do this on a country-by-country basis. Dealers that sell EVs are also equipped to service EVs.

Meet the EV boss
NAME: Beatrice Foucher
TITLE: Renault Vice President, Electric Vehicle Program
AGE: 49
MAIN CHALLENGE: Boosting sales of automaker's EVs despite range anxiety and limited charging network.

What are your top European sales markets for EVs?

We sell EVs in the six-largest countries in Europe and we are expanding in northern Europe this year. France remains the largest market followed by Norway.

Will Renault add more EVs to its lineup?

No, not at this time. Our policy is to continue offering a viable range of EVs. The goal is to sell them in more markets and to develop the technology of the existing products. Selling four different EVs is already challenging enough for dealerships, so it is better to boost the performance of each model.

BMW’s i3 is now on sale. Will this help Renault by raising awareness about EVs?

The more EVs that our competitors launch the better. They complement what we offer. It helps to reassure potential customers about their viability.

Is the i3 a threat because BMW has built it from the ground up as an EV whereas Renault has added EV technology to existing platforms?

In BMW’s case, the i3 offers a different kind of model - for a higher price - compared with Renault’s EV lineup. This lends credibility to the EV market.

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You can reach Bruce Gain at bgain@crain.com.

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