Automaker Renault announced today it has teamed up with French utility EDF to build a huge electric vehicle infrastructure, starting in France, with the goal of making electric cars a viable and attractive option by 2011. The partners will jointly develop a commercial project, open to third parties, that will spread and maintain charging stations, eventually creating what Renault calls an “Electric Mobility Operator” to manage the system. French President Sarkozy endorsed the project at the Paris auto show today and added that the French government, which owns 85 percent of EDF and 15 percent of Renault, will contribute €400 million (roughly $546 million) to the development of electric and hybrid vehicles.
Interestingly, electric infrastructure startup Better Place was not mentioned in this announcement. Renault and EDF say the project will be open to third parties and the lack of details concerning the “Operator” have us wondering. Palo Alto, Calif.-based company Better Place is of course tailored for the role, and the startup says, in its own release, that it is “very excited” about the news, and is already in talks with Renault and EDF to help not only with this project in France but to “develop a pan-European electric vehicle network.”
Sarkozy became acquainted with the Better Place idea earlier this year during a visit to Israel, where he met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Better Place Founder and CEO Shai Agassi and took a Better Place EV for a spin.
France will now be one of the first markets to see Renault’s all-electric offerings along with Israel and Denmark (where the car maker does have deals with Better Place) and Portugal, as well as Tennessee and the Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, where Renault has similar partnerships with local authorities and utilities. The first models will be an electric version of Renault’s Kangoo van and a yet-to-be-seen electric sedan called the Fluence.
The news solidifies Renault-Nissan’s vision of the automotive future. Together they are the world’s fourth largest automaker, and their joint CEO and president Carlos Ghosn wants his companies to be leaders in zero-emission vehicles; he has said he thinks that pure electrics are the way to go. Renault EV project director Serge Yoccoz reportedly estimates that electric cars could grab 10 to 15 percent of the European market by 2015.
Update: Shai Agassi blasted Chevy’s foray into electric cars this week, saying to the Wall Street Journal: “The Volt is a $20,000 car that will cost $40,000. It will be a niche product.” GM’s global vehicle line executive for the Chevy Volt Frank Weber replied in kind, telling the MIT Technology Review that he thinks Renault’s electric commuter cars are a niche product and that “electric vehicles are not a good choice.” “Niche” must be the pejorative automotive term du jour.
Images courtesy of Better Place.