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Electric dreams in the slow lane

Friday, September 28, 2012 - 02:11

Sep.28 - Major automakers have spent billions on developing electric cars but as sales disappoint, concerns grow. Julian Satterthwaite reports from the Paris Motor Show.

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The Zoe is Renault's big bet on the future of automotive technology. Designed from the ground up as a pure electric car it's part of the French company's 4 billion euro investment in petrol-free motoring. VO Leaf But there's a problem. Electric cars, such as the Leaf from Renault sister company Nissan, aren't selling well. That has some analysts predicting that the technology's demise. Renault chief executive Carlos Ghosn says that's short-sighted. SOUNDBITE: Carlos Ghosn, Renault-Nissan CEO saying (English): "When the Chinese are telling you we want 5 million electric cars in 2020 and you're starting from practically nothing you can imagine the amount of effort and investment that the Chinese are going to be doing. So there is no reason in other countries like France and United States - or in Japan - we don't do the same." The relative lack of infrastructure for charging electric vehicles, and limitations to the range of some vehicles are also seen as significant obstacles in some quarters. IHS Global auto analyst Carlos da Silva says there's also a more fundamental issue: SOUNDBITE: Carlos da Silva, IHS Global auto analyst saying (English): "The other problem is the price. The fact that it's new technology, those batteries cost a lot and they need to find a solution to put that on the market and apparently, maybe, today Renault has the solution: I will sell you the car but I will lease you the costly part that is the battery. Alternative engine systems aren't about to go away though. Nissan is also investing in fuel cells while Toyota continues to see strong sales of its Prius hybrid. Mercedes too is investing in hybrids, but chairman Dieter Zetsche is keeping his options open. SOUNDBITE:Dieter Zetsche, Mercedes Chairman saying (English) "I don't think that we have this either or question lying in front of us. We were going for battery-electric cars. We continue to do so. We launched them into the marketplace and the Smart has taken off very promisingly. We were the first German car manufacturer to come out with a hybrid." Electric vehicles have been written off before, and their time may yet come. But for now, mass adoption of this technology is proving stubbornly slow. Julian Satterthwaite, Reuters

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Electric dreams in the slow lane

Friday, September 28, 2012 - 02:11