PARIS – Renault is postponing the full launch of its Zoe electric vehicle until next year, Chief Operating Officer Carlos Tavares says.

The delay is linked to the eurozone economic crisis, which has resulted in Renault having too many new products arriving at the same time.

“I will turn over the keys to the first Zoe by the end of the year,” Tavares says during a conference on competitiveness, but adds that if one launch follows another too closely, “we lose the power of the launch for marketing and commercialization.”

Reaching dealerships now is the fourth-generation Clio hatchback unveiled in September at the Paris auto show. It is a high-volume car with the potential to provide a healthy margin during the launch period, even if the B-segment in which it is slotted is so competitive that Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne says no one is making money there.

Some analysts believe Volkswagen’s overseas profits are behind a strategy of price cutting for the Polo that forces rival auto makers to follow. The Polo is the second-best selling car in France this year to individual customers, according to Renault.

Renault is offering two new engines in the Clio, a 0.9L turbocharged 3-cyl. gasoline powerplant and a 1.5L 4-cyl. turbodiesel. But, says Tavares, “the Zoe is the first car conceived from A to Z as an electric car.”

The Clio-size EV is so silent and comfortable “that it is almost impossible to go back to internal combustion after driving it,” the executive says. “We are confident in its success and impatient to launch it.”

However, the Zoe is likely to lose money for years while setting up Renault as Europe’s EV leader. The Renault-Nissan Alliance already has more than 50% of the region’s EV market, Tavares says.

Renault aims to achieve zero carbon-dioxide emissions. Hybrids, he says at the conference sponsored by Moveo, the main French competitiveness cluster for the automobile industry, are only a transition.

“We have nothing against (hybrid) technology; it works,” he says. “But it is transitional because it doesn’t get to zero (emissions).

“There are many intermediate steps, including diesel, and hybrid is respectable for its efficiency, but it has inconveniences. It uses the same internal-combustion powertrain” as a regular car, but it is more expensive and margins already are small.

“We have research projects for low-cost hybrids,” Tavares says. “We are working in this direction, but it is transitional.”

He also notes that although Renault is suffering through a fifth year of market decline in Europe, reduced volumes have resulted in the auto maker reaching its goal of 50% of its sales outside the region four years ahead of schedule.

Renault has protected its cash for investment in features that “communicate the brand values of our products... We have to be capable to develop the innovations that are pertinent, that make the life for our customers more agreeable.”

The auto maker is committed to introducing 15 innovations per year in the coming years, Tavares says. Some recent ones, such as the four electric cars or 3-cyl. turbocharged gasoline engine, are major. Others, including the tactile information screen in the Clio, Zoe and recent Dacia models, have been lower-profile.

“We want new features that could come to us rather than to another brand,” Tavares says. Renault is looking for innovations that will improve traditional cars as well as EVs, because electrics won’t arrive overnight.

Other areas where innovation will be emphasized include driving assistance, passive security and vehicle connectivity, where “we are going to have 50 applications” that keep Renault connected to its customers.

Tavares confirms Renault has set a goal of achieving fleet CO2 emissions below 100 g/km in 2016, and 80 g/km in 2020, when it expects EVs to comprise 10% of its fleet.

Small and medium-size suppliers are working successfully with Renault on a program called TIMM, for Top Innovation Management Meetings, in which technology and potential costs can be discussed.

“Renault is a business with economic constraints,“ Tavares says. “It is an adult relationship that we propose. If you have good ideas, with DNA that fits with our values, we will listen.”