PARIS -- Renault, a pioneer of electric cars, says mainstream acceptance of EVs is reaching a tipping point and it welcomes increasing competition as European rivals such as Volkswagen and Opel push harder into the market.
In 2011, the Renault-Nissan alliance set a goal of selling 1.5 million zero-emissions vehicles by 2016. CEO Carlos Ghosn admitted in 2013 that the target would not be met, saying it would take an additional four or five years. Last year, the alliance reported global EV sales of 94,265 and a cumulative total of 424,797 units.
Gilles Normand, Renault's head of EVs, said the automaker's overall EV sales figures were "moderate" but added that what is important is that overall investment in electric vehicle technology and infrastructure continues to be robust.
"The point is to keep deploying this technology and investment. The more that companies spend, the larger the market," he told Automotive News Europe in an interview.
"We are reaching the tipping point now that we have more range. People can go beyond commuting and make more and more long distance trips."
Normand said increased competition was welcome because it would generate more spending on research and development, and bring more suppliers into the EV market, especially battery makers.
That competition is most likely coming sooner rather than later.
Opel is rolling out this spring its Ampera-E hatchback, a sister car to the Chevrolet Bolt, for which it claims a 500-km range, under the NEDC European testing cycle. That beats the 400-km top range of Renault's and Europe's top-selling EV, the Zoe.
Volkswagen Group is accelerating its plans to bring purpose-built EVs to market and in a few years, the automaker's VW, Skoda and Seat brands will be introducing volume EVs underpinned by the company's dedicated MEB modular architecture for electric vehicles.
Normand, a veteran of nearly 30 years at Renault who started in his post on Jan. 1, is optimistic that the EV market is ready to make a leap forward.
As reasons, he cited:
- A real-world range that brings electric cars closer to internal-combustion vehicles
- Restrictions on diesel emissions in cities such as London, Paris and Beijing
- Studies that show that 40 percent of car buyers are ready to consider a battery electric vehicle as their next car, up from 10 percent five years ago.
Normand also sees the longer range of its Zoe as a tipping point to winning mass-market acceptance of EVs. Renault launched an updated Zoe in October with a larger 40 kilowatt-hour battery that boosted the car's range to 400 km under the NEDC cycle and 300 km in real-word driving. Renault has taken 15,000 orders for the extended-range Zoe, Normand said.
A driver using the older, 22-kilowatt battery Zoe would be thinking, "OK, I need to recharge. Where is the plug, at home or at the office?" Normand said. "Now, 300 km means you can use your car to commute every day and need to charge it just once a week."
Still, EV range remains "a work in progress," he said, noting that buyers will expect parity with internal combustion engine vehicles, and that means 400 km to 600 km in real world conditions. "It's not going to happen tomorrow," he said.