Renault aims to bring EV cost down as drivers look to small-vehicle market

30 January 2018

30 January 2018

As drivers are being pushed to switch to electric vehicles (EVs) by both governments and vehicle manufacturers themselves, it is the small vehicle market that is likely to see the biggest growth in attracting new drivers.

The Renault Zoe is an example of this, with sales in Europe rising 48% to 27,245 in the first 11 months of last year. However, sales of the Nissan Leaf were flat at 16,531. Part of the reason being that Renault increased the range of its entry-level EV to 180 miles in real-world driving. However, Nissan waited until the launch of its new model to boost its electric range.

With other manufacturers pushing into the market, starting with smaller vehicles to encourage regular drivers. BMW was one such manufacturer, the i3 offering a premium feel in a small car. Daimler is looking at a similar path with its EQ models, while Volkswagen is planning on 80 new electric cars by 2025. Therefore the EV market will suddenly become crowded with the trailblazers fighting to maintain their market share.

Renault electric vehicle program director Gilles Normand said the increase in available distance crossed a ′red line’ for buyers. ′2017 was about increasing the range,” Normand said in an interview. “We are getting more customers from the mainstream market. It’s no longer just the tech-savvy or eco-sensitive. Fundamentally, the idea is to keep on making Zoe competitive in the marketplace, because we are anticipating more competitors will come, especially toward the end of the year,’ he said.

Renault said it would introduce eight new electric vehicles by 2022 as part of its Drive the Future strategic plan. The next to appear is likely to be an electric version of the Kwid supermini SUV sold in emerging markets.

However, to compete in an emerging market, the French manufacturer needs to ensure that it can bring the price down to ensure drivers making the switch from traditional vehicles are not penalised financially. Speaking to Automotive News, Normand said that Renault is making a profit on each Zoe, adding: ′we are not happy in that we are more expensive than internal combustion peer vehicles. We need to keep working hard to reduce costs.’

Some of that cost savings will be easier to find in the next generation of electric vehicles from the Renault-Nissan alliance, which will use a common platform, he said.

Though Zoe sales have been rising strongly each year since its market debut in late 2012, electric vehicles still make up a tiny fraction of the European market. Renault planned for an annual production of 150,000 units, but many analysts expect the market to surge only in 2020 or 2021 when the next European CO2 emissions standards are rolled out.

One potential side effect as electric vehicles gain popularity shortages of battery raw materials such as cobalt, which could slow production and drive prices up.

Normand said the Renault Nissan Alliance’s main battery supplier, LG, will be able to meet 2018 deliveries with any major issues. ′We are not worried in the short term,’ he said. ′In the long term, we are looking at how we can develop low-cobalt or cobalt-free technologies, including solid-state batteries.’