* Standards key, but lack of it will not hurt in short term
* Hybrid proponents play up standardisation to downplay EVs
* China's common standard helps EV technology-BYD chief
By Chang-Ran Kim, Asia autos correspondent
GENEVA, March 2 Automakers will need broad,
political support to come up with a common standard for plugs
and infrastructure for electric cars if they are to become a
convenient option for consumers, they said.
Auto executives gathered at the Geneva auto show this week
said a lack of standardisation could become an issue when the
zero-emission cars start to sell in larger numbers by
mid-decade, as they compete with low-emission hybrids.
"Standardisation and harmonisation is a big critical issue
in Europe," said Michel Gardel, vice president at Toyota Motor's
(7203.T) European operations. "Because for now if we travel from
Denmark to Italy you have to change your plug four times."
Reaching a common industrial policy for anything is a
headache in Europe, where governments prioritise domestic
interests, sometimes at the expense of regional harmony and
convenience for consumers.
That could be a problem for electric cars when they
eventually become capable of going longer distances, for
"What we're trying to do as an industry -- and it's tough,
because there are a lot of competitive issues -- let's make sure
that we have one plug," Carlos Ghosn, head of the Renault-Nissan
alliance, told fellow participants at a World Economic Forum
session in Davos earlier this year.
"Because if consumers start to say, 'If I move from one
country to the other and I have a different plug, a different
device, it's a problem. For the suppliers it's a problem. For
the electricity companies it's a problem," he said, according to
a transcript of the closed-door session seen by Reuters.
Executives at Renault (RENA.PA) and Nissan (7201.T) -- which
together want to lead the electric vehicle (EV) field --
downplayed any immediate problem for electric cars, saying they
expected drivers to use them for commuting and short-distance
driving, plugging in mostly at their home charging stations.
"It's not a show stopper," Simon Thomas, senior vice
president of Nissan's European operations, told Reuters in
Geneva on Wednesday. "At the worst, it's a minor inconvenience."
Even without a common standard, Thomas said, consumers would
most likely have an extra cost of just a few hundred euros to
buy a different cable to plug in.
"It's not optimal in that all the car makers would like to
have one standard everywhere in the first European countries
that are launching (EVs). But everyone is working on it," said
Beatrice Foucher, product head at Renault.
For Special Report on charging EVs:
For Special Report on Renault-Nissan EV plan:
For Take a Look on the auto show [ID:nLDE71N2JA]
Executives expect any decision on standardisation to be at
least two years away, when Europe's top automaker, Volkswagen AG
(VOWG_p.DE), is planning to enter the EV market in earnest.
At the annual Geneva auto show, Renault is showcasing the
Kangoo Van Maxi Z.E. electric commercial vehicle, while at the
next stand, partner Nissan unveiled the ESFLOW, a sleek
zero-emission sports car concept equipped with an electric motor
in each of the two rear wheels.
Speaking of European industrial policy in general, Ford
(F.N) Europe CEO Stephen Odell said flatter regulations would go
far in helping automakers cut costs, which in turn would help
them keep factories open and jobs secure.
"It is a conversation that I have with any politician who
will listen," Odell said. "In the end, unless you have an
industrial policy, you're going to struggle in the global
Having one standard in the vast Chinese market was a big
advantage that could help EVs spread fast in China, the head of
Warren Buffett-backed electric car maker BYD Co (1211.HK) said.
"We expect approval for standardisation in China in the
first half of this year," BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu told Reuters
in Geneva. He added that a lead in EV technology gives BYD an
opportunity to enter the European market, where he said
competing in the mature internal combustion engine model would
HURDLE OR HICCUP?
Proponents of competing technology used the lack of
standardisation to play up their own approach.
"With plug-in hybrid cars, you don't have that problem
because when you run out of electricity, the gasoline engine
will kick in," said Takeshi Uchiyamada, head of R&D at Toyota.
"I think that a day when we see hybrids making up more than
30 percent of cars sold in Japan, the U.S. and Europe is no
longer a pipe dream," he said.
Nissan Executive Vice President Colin Dodge begged to
"Pure EV will have a big market. Plug-in hybrids will have a
reasonably sized market for large cars, and internal combustion
engines will always exist," he said. Dodge added that Nissan
expected to deliver 5,000-6,000 EVs in Europe in the business
year ending in March 2012.
The head of Japan's Mitsubishi Motors (7211.T), which put
the world's first mass-produced electric car, the i-MiEV, on the
road in 2009, said EVs were already setting milestones in
In Norway, President Osamu Masuko said, the i-MiEV became
the single-best selling model in the microcar segment --
inclusive of petrol and diesel cars -- for the first time this
January, and probably again last month.
"It's a small first step," Masuko said. "But it's a big step
for electric cars."
(Additional reporting by Helen Massy-Beresford and Bernie
Woodall; Editing by Louise Heavens)