Renault shrugs off electric car setback

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Published May 27, 2013

| Reuters

French carmaker Renault said the collapse of a joint venture aimed at making electric cars more appealing would not hold back its plans for battery-powered vehicles.

The news that Better Place had filed a motion in an Israeli court to wind up the company came as Renault was preparing on Monday to hand over the first electric Zoe to construction and telecoms conglomerate Bouygues .

Renault-Nissan alliance chief Carlos Ghosn has ploughed a bigger share of his companies' cash into the technology than any other mass-market carmaker as the group bets on demand for electric cars, especially in China.

Better Place represents not much more than 1 percent of the alliance's total electric vehicle volumes said Gilles Normand, Renault's Asia-Pacific director.

"Which means that it's not at all a case of bringing our electric strategy into question," Normand said.

He added that the "quick drop" technology developed by Renault for Better Place represented only "an extremely limited part" of the 4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) that the alliance planned to invest in electric cars by 2015.

Despite generous subsidies, sales of electric cars in the United States and Europe remain far below expectations three years since the introduction of the Nissan <7201.T> Leaf. The installation of charging networks is also flagging.

SCEPTICAL

A survey of German drivers published by the ADAC automobile association on Monday showed that they were becoming increasingly skeptical about electric cars and that their expectations of the technology had been reduced significantly.

Political will to promote the technology remains strong, however. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday reaffirmed her target to bring one million electric cars onto German roads by the end of the decade.

Better Place partnered with Renault in 2008 to create an electric car system combining charging terminals with battery swap stations to increase the range of electric cars and put an end to drivers' worries about running out of power.

The business committed to a production run of 100,000 electric cars for Israel and Denmark, counting on large fleets to sign up. But sales failed to take off and there are only about 900 of its cars on the road in Israel and about 400 in Denmark.

Normand said that while Renault regretted Better Place's decision to liquidate, the carmaker had not wished to take a stake in the technology venture because this was not its role.

Shares in Renault were down 0.3 percent by 0940 GMT, underperforming a 0.8 percent firmer French blue-chip CAC 40 index . ($1 = 0.7734 euros)

(Editing by Christian Plumb and David Goodman)

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