Renault-Nissan Eyes Fleet Market for Electric Cars, Strikes Two New Deals

It appears 2009 is shaping up to be the year of the fleet: The Renault-Nissan Alliance, which has set a goal of leading the global electric vehicle market, said today that it has struck two new deals to accelerate deployment of upcoming plug-in vehicles in corporate fleets. BNP subsidiary Arval has agreed to develop leasing plans specifically for electric cars in an effort to speed their adoption, and fleet giant ALD Automotive has signed on to support introduction of Renault’s electric cars into European corporate fleets from 2011 onward.

Renault-Nissan’s move is just the latest in a slew of deals for the alliance as it works to build a market and infrastructure for its upcoming electric vehicles. But it also represents the latest fleet play — one of the biggest for plug-in vehicles, given the reach of the companies involved (Arval and ALD’s fleets include a total of more than 1.4 million vehicles internationally) at a time when the business of fleet supply and management is attracting innovators from across the green transportation sector. As consumer vehicle sales slump and automakers look to test out their inaugural electric models in controlled settings, fleets offer a good match.

Today’s deals come on the heels of Canada-based Electrovaya launching a small car-sharing program for its Maya 300, a low-speed electric four-seater planned for the fleet market. And it comes less than two months after car-sharing company Zipcar jumped into the fleet management biz in hopes of crossing over into profitability by year’s end.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, or GAO, released a report on the new push for plug-in vehicles in federal fleets, and it highlighted a number of challenges — mostly having to do with high upfront costs, the need for charging infrastructure, limited supply and the fact that federal agencies face potentially conflicting mandates to reduce electricity use while adding on a new source of demand (the vehicles).

Among the key recommendations in the GAO report is for the Secretary of Energy to develop guidance for agencies acquiring plug-in vehicles. According to the report:

Such guidance might include assessing the need for installing charging infrastructure and identifying areas where improvements may be necessary, mapping current driving patterns, and determining the energy sources used to generate electricity in an area.

Depending on how quickly fleet initiatives from companies Renault (at large scale) and Electrovaya (at small scale) take off, and on how they pan out — they, too, may encounter customers worried about at high upfront costs and infrastructure needs — the government may be able to take some of these cues from private sector innovators.

“Kangoo be bop Z.E.” prototype photo credit Renault

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