PARIS (Reuters) - Carmakers are focusing on early electric vehicle challenges such as charging infrastructure and driver wariness, as mass market launches of many models draw near, executives told the Reuters Global Autos Summit.
As carbon dioxide emission legislation tightens, carmakers are looking to full electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid technology to cut emissions.
Thierry Koskas, head of French carmaker Renault’s electric vehicle project, told the summit on Monday electric vehicles would account for around 5 percent of the world car market by 2016.
Koskas reiterated a longer-term forecast by Renault Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn, who said EVs could account for one in 10 new car sales by 2020. Koskas said the ramp-up would be gradual: “Probably in 2016 it will be half of that.”
Renault, with Japanese alliance partner Nissan Motor Co Ltd, is aggressively pushing electric vehicles — the two partners are investing 4 billion euros together in such cars.
Other manufacturers are less optimistic.
Allan Rushforth, vice president of Hyundai Motor Europe, told the summit, at the Paris office of Reuters: “We believe hybrids and electric vehicles are a long-term proposition. The 10-year share of the European market for those vehicles is probably single digit.”
Koskas added: “One of the limits is the adoption ratio, how quickly people will move to the new technology.
“That is something we observe in a lot of industries — when you introduce CD, DVD, Blu-ray, you have early adopters who jump straight away and people who wait.”
Nissan’s Leaf takes to the roads of some European markets early next year, while Renault’s Kangoo and Fluence electric models are due to go on sale in September 2011.
The French carmaker’s Twizzy mini-vehicle and Zoe urban car models will be available from the second half of 2012.
Koskas said a less-powerful version of the Twizzy would be launched for drivers over 16 years old who do not yet have a license.
Carmakers are scrambling to ensure charging stations are in place at car parks, supermarkets and on streets to ease anxiety about the distances vehicles can travel before needing a top-up.
Renault and Nissan together have around 80 partnerships with local authorities, national governments and businesses to get charging points in place.
Koskas said Renault might eventually look beyond its first four models. “We announce the first four cars, but there might be others later, we don’t know.”
And the carmaker may start to make its own electric motors for vehicles within two or three years. It currently buys the motors from an undisclosed supplier.
Green technologies are in focus in Europe, as the first mass-market EVs, including PSA Peugeot Citroen’s iOn and C-Zero, based on Mitsubishi’s iMiEV, prepare to take to the roads.
Early sales of fully electric vehicles are not expected to reach high numbers and will mostly be to businesses, but the first few thousand cars will road-test charging points and give an idea of the technology’s potential.
Gildo Pallanca Pastor, chief executive of Monaco-based electric sportscar maker Venturi, told the summit his company is working on two- and three-wheeled models.
Venturi may open up its capital to investors to help fund its growing series of electric vehicle projects, he said.
Venturi, which sells the Fetish electric sports car for around 300,000 euros, also has a deal in place with France’s PSA Peugeot Citroen to deliver electric Berlingo vans.
It also plans to start production of the Eclectic, a small car with solar panels, late next year, and this year set a world EV speed record of 515 kilometers per hour.
Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner, Gilles Guillaume and Helen Massy-Beresford; Editing by David Hulmes and Matthew Lewis