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Economic war over electric cars

Economic war over electric cars

High powered drama in the corporate world as three senior Renault execs are accused of industrial espionage. Iman Kurdi of Arab News explains why this really can be called an economic war.

January 9, 2011 1:53 by

Renault plans to launch onto the mass market no less than four cars in the next two years: The Fluence, the Twizy, the Zoe and an electric version of its Kangoo compact utility car. Nissan is launching another four including the Leaf launched in December. Renault Nissan are already the biggest producers of electric cars in terms of volume and are clearly staking their future on claiming the lion’s share of what they see as the future of motoring.

From the point of view of my home region, the attraction is hard to see. Who would want to drive an electric car in the home of oil? In any case, a region with long driving distances, high temperatures and big families is the exact opposite of a suitable market for electric cars. But in crowded European or American cities, they make more sense. In cluttered city centers, the demand is for small cars that are easy to park, that are driven short distances and that are cheap to run. Electric cars fit that bill nicely, but only when they are heavily subsidised by the state, and they are. In the US, buyers can obtain a subsidy of up to $7,500 for the purchase of an electric vehicle. In Britain, there is a similar subsidy of 5,000 pounds. Even with those subsidies electric vehicles remain relatively expensive, but still, it is not hard to see the realization of Carlos Ghosn’s prediction that by 2020 one in ten cars being driven will be an electric car — so long as the technology to make them more competitive follows through. The main two issues that have held up electric cars so far are the cost and the range. With petrol you fill up and drive hundreds of miles. When you run out, you stop at a station and fill up. Within minutes you are back on the road. With electric cars not only is the range limited (up to 64 kms for a GM volt or 160 kms for a Nissan Leaf) but it takes up to eight hours to recharge the battery.

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