Electric Car Revolution Remains a Distant Prospect

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2011 was supposed to be year of Renault's major offensive. But so far the only thing the company has to offer is a flashy website devoted to electric cars. The site has links to Facebook and Twitter and a short video in which someone playing an instructor dressed in a white lab coat tries to dispel the "myths" about battery capacities and ranges while using incorrect scientific terms (such as "kilowatt per hour" instead of "kilowatt hour") and divining that the Renault Fluence Z.E. will be able to drive 185 kilometers on a single charge.

The car that is supposed to keep this promise looks like the makeshift conversion of an ordinary sedan. The battery is housed vertically behind the back seats and can store 22 kilowatt hours of energy. It is only expected to have a range of 100 kilometers at best.

For the time being, Renault's only contribution to electric mobility is a car that costs a lot but can do little. The electric version of the Fluence is expected to have a sticker price of €26,180 -- but that's without the battery, which will remain the manufacturer's property and will be leased to the car owner for €79 a month. Consumers can already get their hands on a version of the Fluence that comes with a combustion engine for almost €8,000 less -- including a gas tank.

Tempering Ambition This product will not clear the way to the mass-marketing Ghosn proclaimed, but there might be some comfort in the fact that, when it comes to the environment, its arrival isn't really all that urgent. Environmental analysts already determined a while back that an electric vehicle that gets its power from Germany's current energy mix does only slightly less damage than a conventional car with good mileage.

Indeed, everything seems to suggest that we should still give the electric drive system a few more decades to mature instead of proclaiming a breakthrough that can't come so quickly.

Even the idea of the Electric Grand Prix floated by the FIA would hardly be a good advertisement for this new type of drive system. In fact, it would only illustrate its weaknesses, because the race would only last 15 minutes. The batteries wouldn't last any longer than that.

Translated from the German by Josh Ward

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