PARIS – Renault delivers its first Zoe electric vehicle to France’s automotive minister Arnaud Montebourg and the next 10 to the E. Leclerc superstore in rural France that has installed 11 recharging posts for EV drivers.

These first sales allow Renault to keep to its long-announced schedule of bringing the Zoe to market in 2012, although most dealerships won’t have cars for retail customers until spring.

Montebourg ordered the vehicle at the Paris auto show and jumped to the head of the line with his high-profile position.

As minister for industrial redevelopment, Montebourg has been the government’s main actor in the effort to make France a leader for EVs. The Plan Automobile asks the auto industry, local governments and commerce to work together to build an infrastructure and cars to use it.

A government bonus of €7,000 ($9,000) brings the price of a Zoe in France to €13,700 ($18,220), with batteries rented separately.

In a statement at the presentation of keys to the car, Renault Chief Operating Officer Carlos Tavares says “The commitment of the government and Mr. Montebourg, as confirmed today, is a decisive advantage for making France a robust cornerstone of electric-vehicle development and serves to reinforce Renault’s position as a French champion on the international stage.”

E. Leclerc, France’s biggest retailer with 560 superstores, has a partnership to develop EVs and infrastructure. The “Z.E. Club des 50” will begin next year with a Renault dealer and an E. Leclerc center in different French regions working together to deploy charging stations.

In Brittany, the E. Leclerc center in Pont l’Abbé and the Renault dealership in Quimper are the first members of this Club. Patrick Bellec, who owns the store, says his 10 Zoes will be used as company cars.

Plans call for 50 E. Leclerc centers to install charging points, and a score have already done so, Renault says. Ultimately, 500 stores may be involved with 500 Renault dealers.

Bellec has been promoting sustainable development. His store parking lot has solar-powered lamps, and he owns six EVs: two Fluence Z.E. sedans and four Twizy scooter cars.

“We were the first hypermarket to draw up a carbon audit and to seek to reduce our carbon footprint, to make electric bikes available to personnel and to rent out hybrid cars,” he says. “It was only natural for us to be the first to welcome electric cars.”

The positive publicity of Zoe’s pre-launch deliveries is balanced by relatively negative news about EV acceptance overall.

Renault says it sold about 16,600 EVs through October, and all of Europe has only about 15,000 public recharging points installed.

The recharging posts are 50% more than at the end of 2011, the auto maker says, but political battles between German and French electrical engineers have delayed European adoption of a standard for plugs, sockets and recharging.

Earlier this year, Michel-Edouard Leclerc, the head of the Leclerc group, expected 150 of his 500 stores would have charging points installed by the end of 2012, but only 20 have them so far.

The recharging station in Brittany cost €50,000 ($66,000), according the autoactu.com website, which says Leclerc franchisees don’t want to invest before the cars are in dealerships.

And while Renault has not renounced its forecast that EVs will take 10% of the global market in 2020, no one else seems to share that vision.

Roland Berger Strategy Consultants in Germany says it expects EVs to account for just 1.4% of European sales in 2020, if the industry depends on market pull alone. Even with continued government subsidies, penetration would reach only 2.1%, the group says.

At best, U.S. market share will hit 0.5% by then, with EVs accounting for no more than 1.3% in China, Roland Berger’s Wolfgang Bernard says in a recent presentation here.

“There is only a niche demand for EVs,” he says.