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World 2010: The electric car, finally market proof?

In a usual schematization to the phenomena of mode, the electric car is presented like an innovating alternative to the traditional spark-ignition engine car. Ecological, without rejection, nervous but quiet, perfectly adapted to urban environment, it brings multiple solutions to the problems of cohabitation between European or Asian cities not adapted to the intensification of circulation.

It offers a modern and tempting technical solution which lends itself in particular to the car sharing and the self-service. It can convince the young generations which turn away the traditional car. That's why the electric car initially seduced the public authorities who decided to largely finance its production and to facilitate its use.

The moment of truth: the market

But its theoretical virtues will have from now on to confront itself with the reality of the market. Finally, one will know who will buy an electric car reagrding the abundance of the conventional offer, in electric modernization treatment ...? Moreover, the lull observed on the oil price, even if it is only temporary, like the awakening of the real conditions of electrical energy production necessary to the cars moderate the enthusiasm of the exclusive promoters of the electric car.

The Paris show was the occasion to show vehicles truly intended for the general public. The first French electric car available on the market as of October will be... a Japanese one. Indeed, PSA stole the show from its rival Renault by adapting the model of its partner Mitsubishi, the iMiev sold under the name of Citroen C-Zéro (image below), then Peugeot Ion.

Citroën C-Zéro from PSA

Sales strategies of both groups are different. Whereas Renault always stated to want to offer an electric car to the price of a traditional car, Citroen positions its small truck on a high price level (30000 € after 5000 € bonus) for a hundred kilometers of autonomy and the sales volumes ambitions remain confidential. The Alliance Renault Nissan, which made electric vehicle its major ambition, introduces the Nissan Leaf (image below) which will be proposed at the European market with 28000 €. Electric Kangoo and the Fluence will only appear at the end of 2011 and the Zoe, intended to be a vehicle of mass will appear during 2012. Bolloré Pinifarina, seen since 2008, like Lumeneo, will have to finally show that they can leave the showrooms for the street.

Nissan Leaf from Renault-Nissan

Competition: hybrids and adapted traditional vehicles

Behind the pure electric vehicles, which must prove the relevance of their quality ratio/price, the market is succeeding the electrification of all the traditional vehicles. We faces numerous solutions which make electric vehicle only one particular case.

Firstly, Stop & Start system generalization switching off the engine when it is not necessary, in traffic or waiting the green light, leads to a consumption decrease in cities by 10%.

Secondly, all the car ranges have optimized thermal engines, profiting from a size reduction, power and capacity, involving a significant decrease of consumption while preserving gravitational performances and autonomy specific to the vehicles with oil. The level of the 100 g/CO2 per km is now exceeded by several vehicles.

Moreover, each manufacturer has its interpretation of the hybrid vehicle, either for reducing consumption, either for increasing performances. Pioneers such as Toyota and Honda generalize their solution on the whole of their range. But where the traditional hybrid is a thermal car profiting from a complementary electrical motor, one sees appearing with Opel Ampera, cousin of the Chevrolet Volt, another solution. It is about an electric car connected to the network which can increase its autonomy thanks to a thermal engine acting like auxiliary generator. It will be sold in Europe at the end of 2011 beyond 35000 €.

Enlightened conservatism or rupture?

The consumer will have to choose between modernized conservatism and the audacity of the rupture, the "all-electric one" could be perceived like an incursion into an ignored world, marked by the fear of a too weak autonomy, even if it is allowed rationally that apart from the holidays daily displacements enter without difficulty the current operating range of the electric car.

In addition to the pleasure of being an early adoptor, in fact especially considerations of cost will make the difference. The electric car has obvious assets under daily operation, but must make finance the current over cost of the batteries. The government aid can provide for it for a time, but it is obvious that the technical innovation will have to be solicited in the next years to offer at a competitive price a reassuring autonomy, or effective means of guaranteeing it, for those waiting from their single car multiple services.

Jean-Pierre Corniou, Sia Conseil Director and previously member of the Executive Committee of Renault

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