Renault is in the process of expanding the number of European markets in which their electric cars are sold. We discussed their strategy with Denis Le-Vot, Vice President for European Markets.
Mr. Le-Vot, please explain how the idea of electric vehicles started for Renault.
We started electric vehicles with the vision of our CEO, Carlos Ghosn. We were obliged to provide the technology for the sake of our planet and to satisfy the expectations of our clients. But we did have some difficulties in preparing our offer to meet this demand, if I may thus describe it. Demand is not explicit and never has been. I've never met a customer who said "I want to buy an electric car" or "I have a dream of an electric car." The last four years were a test and learning process throughout the world, Europe, everywhere, to find out the roadblocks of the potential clients against the technology and the offer. At the end of the day, the desires of clients and what we can offer proved incompatible, but this is a psychological question of unrealistic expectations. In other words clients or potential clients should be persuaded by the range of the car, how reliable the technology will be, will it be a real car in terms of functioning or overall satisfaction with the use of it. Our experience shows that people who buy a new or used electric car are very happy with it and that it is very reliable. The theme is the security, psychological security that we can offer with the cars, in terms of range and reassurance of the recharging system. It is important to have recharging stations all around on your daily trips even though the majority of people all around Europe are doing mostly 40 or 50 kilometers. Look how you use your cell phone, you are not afraid, you are using it throughout the day and you plug it at night. And that's it. It works every day. You are not afraid of not using your phone but you can be afraid of using an EV until you try. If you do the same with the car you see it just works. And you see that people who use the car are just happy with the car. Our job is to explain to people that it just works, that you have to try it and then you will be satisfied.
So, the obstacle for being a EV user is just that you have to be persuaded?
Yes, we who offer EVs have to find a way to help people to overcome the obstacles. Look, one of the ways to do this is political. Take an example. Today we are in a country that produces more than sixty percent of all electricity itself, hydro electricity and nuclear electricity are not imported. This is not the case for gas. Production of gas is zero. So the government has a chance to say – drive electric vehicles. Rely on locally produced energy. This is important. We have to break the barriers and show people that using EVs is possible.
"We have to break the barriers and show people that EVs are really practical for everyday use."
Renault introduced the system of buying the car but leasing the batteries. Why?
The electric car is a new technology; we expect it will evolve fast. Car technology is mature, all the car makers know how to make cars. The electric car's battery is critical, the evolution will continue. The battery's end of life is very critical and it is not the same as the end of the life of the car. For cars there is an industry with a full recycling program. This is not the case for the batteries. This is very specific technology. That is why we propose to the client – don't worry about, this is not your problem. Pay a simple fee and you will have the best battery, no problems with the evolution of technology of the battery, recycling, all this is our problem, we will take care of it. This is our statement – you buy a car, you rent a battery.
With the introduction of your concept car Eolab you opened the other part of EV technology, a plug-in hybrid system. How this is compatible with just introduced pure electric vehicles?
Our Renault-Nissan Alliance has technologies for EV's and plug-in hybrid. I would not put both technologies in an opposition. Question of choosing between EV or hybrid is not a good question. We see both as a different solutions for different problems. Small cars like Zoe or Kangoo are a good solution. The offer we have makes sense. On bigger cars with different expectations hybrid could be a solution.