France to Push Local Electric-Car Charging Network Plans

France’s government would prefer that municipalities take the lead in developing electric-car charging stations, Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said.

A national operator could “intervene” should locally backed charging networks be slow to develop, “but it would best for it to intervene eventually, not now,” Montebourg said today at a conference in Paris of French mayors.

France, responding to public concern about rising fuel prices and climate change, already backs the segment, offering drivers a rebate of 7,000 euros ($9,000) on the purchase of a battery-powered vehicle and 4,000 euros for a hybrid electric-gasoline model. The global market for electric cars is dominated by Renault SA, based in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, and Japanese partner Nissan Motor Co.

Consumers worldwide have been slow to embrace electric models, which can cost more and offer shorter travel ranges than similar gasoline-powered vehicles and pose inconveniences with battery charging. Les Echos newspaper reported earlier today that the French government is considering setting up a nationwide charging network, with Bollore SA, JCDecaux SA, Veolia Environnement SA, Vinci SA and power utility EDF SA’s network subsidiary as possible providers.

Renault said yesterday that that it will work with Bouygues SA, France’s second-largest building company, to improve electric-car charing availability in new buildings. Yokohama-based Nissan, the world’s biggest maker of electric cars, said yesterday that marketing executive Jean-Pierre Diernaz is taking the newly established position of director for the vehicles in Europe.

Startup’s Collapse

The partners are contending with industry setbacks of the past two years, including the collapse on May 26 of Better Place LLC, an Israeli startup developing quick-recharging stations that was working with Renault. Nissan, which builds the Leaf hatchback, missed its U.S. target for electric-vehicle sales by half in 2012.

The segment is also hampered by the six-year decline in Europe’s car market. Carlos Ghosn, chief executive officer of both Nissan and Renault, said today that a project with Seoul-based LG Chem Ltd. to build a car-battery plant in France is on hold until the region’s industrywide sales recover.

France now counts about 6,000 charging stations for electric vehicles and plans to increase that to 8,000 points by the end of the year, Montebourg said.

Renault offers four electric models ranging in size from a city car to a commercial van, the industry’s biggest line-up, and it has sold more than 25,000 of the vehicles worldwide since entering the segment in 2011. Nissan has delivered 60,000 electric vehicles since its Leaf car went on sale in late 2010. The partners have a combined target of 1.5 million deliveries of the models by 2016.

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