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Friday, November 13, 2009

Renault confirm Better Place to run charging network in France

Renault confirmed it will use U.S. partner Better Place to run its future electric-car charging network in its home market of France, Chief Operating Officer Patrick Pelata said.

Besides recharging stations planned by Electricite de France SA, the country needs the California startup’s battery- swapping service to maximize demand for electric vehicles, Pelata said in an interview yesterday at Renault’s headquarters in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.

“We’re working on having it in France,” Pelata said. “Nobody else is working with this business model, so it’s probably going to be with Better Place.”

Starting in 2012, drivers of electric Renault cars in Israel and Denmark will use Better Place’s roadside stations to switch depleted batteries for recharged units in three minutes, extending their effective range beyond a single charge. In France, the government has appointed state-owned EDF to roll out a recharging network that may be open to rival power suppliers and operators.

Renault, France’s second-biggest carmaker, rose as much as 53 cents, or 1.7 percent, to 32 euros and was up 0.4 percent as of 2:12 p.m. in Paris trading. The stock has gained 70 percent this year.

The company and Japanese affiliate Nissan Motor Co. are committed to investing 4 billion euros ($6 billion) in the electric vehicles and batteries that they plan to begin introducing in 2012. Another 1 billion euros has been pledged by the French government to stimulate demand for the models.

Without swapping stations, “anybody who drives more than 120 or 130 kilometers from time to time will be uncomfortable with the 160-kilometer (100-mile) range” offered by the Renault models, Pelata said. “We’re expanding the volume potential for the car.”

The Israeli and Danish plans require power utilities to support Palo Alto-based Better Place as a front-line operator that supplies the batteries, runs charging and swapping facilities and bills customers for usage and power.

Shai Agassi, the U.S. company’s founding president, acknowledged resistance from EDF in a Sept. 15 interview and said the utility shouldn’t regard him as a competitor.

Both sides need to “leave egos behind” in talks on their roles in the French rollout, Agassi said at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Choosing a single incumbent operator “would extend EDF’s monopoly from kilowatt-hours to kilometers.”

A spokeswoman at Paris-based EDF said the company had no comment. Better Place “would be happy to work with Renault to develop the French market,” Agassi said in an e-mailed response to Pelata’s comments.

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