PARIS – While skeptics continue to question the future of battery-powered cars, France has announced its many publicly controlled enterprises, as well as private firms, will be ordering 50,000 electric utility vehicles this fall.
Industry Minister Christian Estrosi says the orders will come from fleet managers of such organizations as La Poste; electric-utility EDF; railroad-company SNCF; transport company Veolia; and Vinci, a conglomerate that manages hundreds of parking lots, among other activities.
In addition, national and regional governments will be ordering vehicles. Estrosi says public fleets, alone, will buy 100,000 EVs over the next five years.
Jean-Paul Bailly, head of the French post office, has been meeting with managers from other public and private fleets to collaborate on vehicle specifications and what amounts to a simultaneous request for bids, an approach that ensures volumes would be sufficient to attract auto makers.
La Poste plans to have 10,000 EVs by 2013, amounting to 25% of its fleet.
At the same time, Estrosi announces an E1.5 billion ($2.2 billion) lithium-ion battery factory at Flins, whereSA will make the electric Kangoo utility vehicle, and he opens a project dedicated to prototyping Li-ion batteries for transportation at the Grenoble headquarters of research cooperative Minalogic.
Skepticism remains in many quarters. A spokeswoman for oil company Total SA says EVs are generating a lot of buzz, but market acceptability remains a question. A spokesman for hybrid-leaderMotor Corp. in California this week urged the auto industry to be cautious in promoting EVs so as not to disappoint people.
However, there is no doubt about the official French position.
“The 21st Century will be the century of the end of petroleum, and consequently that of a revolution for the automobile, the end of the automobile that we have known,” Estrosi says.
Government-sponsored studies indicate the 30 million cars in France in 2020 will include 2 million EVs and plug-in hybrids, he adds.
Bothand Peugeot Citroen are developing battery-powered light-utility vehicles that surely will meet specifications in the bids coming this fall.
Renault showed concept versions of its electric Kangoo at the Geneva and Frankfurt auto shows this year, andhas been working with Venturi SA on a program converting last-generation Citroen Berlingos and Peugeot Partners into EVs.
La Poste has had five electric Berlingos under test since June and is on the verge of ordering at least 250 of them. It also has been testingDiablos converted by Newteon Group, and these vehicles also are likely candidates for La Poste, as well as other fleets.
Both Venturi and Newteon are headquartered in Monaco, a small but rich French city-state on the Mediterranean that officially supports electric transportation. Venturi’s Berlingos use a high-temperature Zebra battery with sodium-nickel-chloride technology, and Newteon fits the Diablos with more expensive Li-ion batteries.
La Poste already has 3,000 electric bicycles in its fleet and 100 electric quadricycles or “voiturettes” ordered from French manufacturers Automobiles Ligier SA and Matra MS.
Remi Simon, the manager of vehicle technology for La Poste, says the postal workers who have been driving the electric vans all summer on 31-mile (50-km) routes “are satisfied, very positive. They don’t want anything else.”
The Grenoble project involves an E11 million ($16 million) venture – E7.5 million ($11.1 million) from the state and its atomic energy agency CEA – between several state agencies and the University Jules Verne to establish a battery prototype and testing facility.
The Flins battery factory project is a joint venture between Renault, the CEA and Automotive Electric Supply Corp., theMotor Co. Ltd.-NEC Corp. battery JV. The national contribution includes support for a research-and-development center in Grenoble aimed at improving AESC’s Li-ion technology.
The first phase, through 2014, will cost E800 million ($1.2 billion), Estrosi says. Production will begin at a pace of 50,000 batteries a year and grow to 250,000 by 2015.
He says France also could provide support to the Smart factory in Hambach, France, which soon will begin production of Fortwos using battery packs furnished by the American auto makerMotors Inc.
Another minister, Jean-Louis Legrand, is scheduled to make a report on the electric infrastructure Oct. 1. Estrosi says it will include requirements future buildings be constructed with electric charging points in garages and that businesses and shopping centers include high-voltage charging points that could recharge a battery in 90 minutes.
“These investments will be expensive,” he says, “but considerably less than the E60 billion ($88.8 billion) spent in France for petroleum in 2008, half of it for transportation. Therefore, this isn’t an investment that we should be scared of. It’s a clear case of investing for the future.”