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Essential technology: Drive-in fuel station plan for electric cars

Dealerships could form part of a network of nationwide
battery centres planned to ensure drivers of next-generation electric vehicles are never far from rapid charge top-up facilities.

Renault is aiming for hundreds of ‘fast-drop’ charging outlets to be on stream by 2012, when it will make a three-model EV line-up available across its dealer network.

Two of the vehicles will be adaptations of present Megane and Kangoo models, but the French company’s zero-emissions trailblazer will be a five-seat hatchback designed exclusively for electric propulsion.

The Clio-sized car is likely to provide at least 100 miles of travel from a full charge of its lithium-ion battery pack, now being developed jointly by Renault-Nissan and Japanese electronics giant NEC.

Fast moving technology means a bigger range

“Preliminary test results show we can already claim to have a considerable advantage in power output and range with this car, but battery technology is moving on at such a fast rate that it’s possible we will be able to claim an even bigger range by the time it comes to market,” a Renault UK spokesman told AM.

Company forecasters believe that in three years’ time the electric line-up will appeal to 30% of the buying public. A key component of the firm’s business case is that motorists making the switch will lease batteries rather than buy them.

Three main reasons lie behind this rationale – the new battery will be expensive to buy, it will have a residual value and customers would be in line for immediate benefits in performance as technology improves.

At present, the 100-mile range is achieved after four to eight hour charges, but Renault feels a chain of what it calls ‘quick-drop’ stations are crucial to the viability of electric mobility.

“We have to make it as easy as possible for people to drive longer distances and this calls for a level of operation as close as possible to refuelling the conventional car.

“What we envisage is being able to buy electricity just as you buy fuel. Along with NEC, we are developing a battery station concept that could be a stand alone operation or sited at dealerships and we would welcome other manufacturers to take part in the project.

“On-board equipment would navigate you to a recharge point or a battery station. It would book in the car to make sure the station was ready for your arrival and we think you could be on your way again in less than the time you would normally spend at a filling station.

“Your car would enter one end of the station and go onto a conveyor. As it moved through the building, the battery would be removed, another fitted and payment made – and you’d be driving from the other side of the building between three and five minutes later,” said the spokesman.

After entering partnership agreements with Denmark, Portugal, Monaco, three US states and two Japanese prefectures, Renault-Nissan is seeking UK government support to make its electric models cheaper to buy than conventional cars.

Government aid to help take up in electric vehicles

“Dialogue is taking place and it is encouraging. We feel it is likely there will be a certain amount of government aid to encourage people to take up electric vehicles here, as elsewhere.

“Renault-Nissan sees hybrids as a short-term solution to a problem that can only be solved by zero-emission vehicles,” said the spokesman.

Strategic environmental planning vice-president Alice de Brauer said: “We are poised to make the breakthrough in the mass production of electric vehicles. Others will follow, but we want to be the first in this important new market.

“We are predicting that between 15 and 20% of family cars could be powered by electricity by the end of the next decade but, crucially, this depends on having the infrastructure and long-term commitment on fiscal incentives.”

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