Companies in Europe plan electric car infrastructure

'Automotive News' reports on new business models for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids before 2011.

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Automakers in Europe plan new business models for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids before 2011.

The business models will eliminate the need for gasoline stations. Energy will be supplied by utility companies. The automakers also will need to take into account the life span of batteries, which will depreciate and wear out quicker than the cars themselves.

Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler, Renault-Nissan, Volvo, and General Motors are among the carmakers that plan to bring plug-in hybrids and full-electric cars to market in 2011.

When that happens, carmakers, utility companies, and battery suppliers will need to be ready to take over the role of energy suppliers from oil companies. This will require a restructuring of energy supply arrangements and infrastructure.

But the industry also needs to examine such areas as calculations of operating costs, vehicle depreciation and billing systems.

"We have to prepare for a new era in our industry like never before," Thomas Weber, Daimler board member for R&D, told Automotive News Europe. "Managing financial conditions is crucial for a successful electrification of cars."

Said Renault COO Patrick Pelata, "Electric vehicles require a business model which is completely different from that of traditional combustion-driven cars. Electrification is not a technical battle but a cost-driven development."

An efficient energy supply infrastructure is a big concern for carmakers. In early 2009, the German utility RWE AG will launch a test project in Berlin with 100 full-electric Smarts and 500 public charging stations. In 2010, Volkswagen will show an electric version of its Up minicar and will start field-testing 20 Golf Twin-Drive plug-in hybrids.

Similar test projects exist or are being developed in Denmark, Japan, and Portugal. But Renault says that even for a small country such as Israel, where it will launch an electric vehicle in 2011, a network of 500,000 plug-in charging points will be needed.

The French utility EDF is cooperating with PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, Renault, and Toyota to develop charging networks. But utilities will have different considerations than oil companies when developing their business models for electrification.

"We do not want to become energy suppliers," Weber said. "Utilities should compete with each other to offer the lowest price and most reliable energy supply."

GM, which will introduce its Chevrolet/Opel Volt plug-in hybrid in Europe in 2012, anticipates a gradual-growth scenario. "That will allow for the infrastructure to develop," said Hans Demant, GM Europe's vice president of engineering. "The requirements for recharging batteries in spacious suburbs on one hand and limited parking around apartment flats in big cities are things to address."

Said Eric Breton, an expert in PSA's hybrid programs department, "What we need is a good socket-and-plug standard all over Europe. On top of that, we need a good protocol for charging batteries and billing customers for their energy consumption."

Electric-vehicle drivers also will need to make their own contribution if the new electric era is to run smoothly. Said Weber, "Unlike stopping at the next fuel station only when the tank is empty, electric-vehicle customers should make it a habit of recharging their batteries every day, as they do today with their mobile phones."

(Source: Automotive News)

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