The circuit breakers
ELECTRIC cars are having more trouble getting started than my 1950s Volkswagen Beetle. The idea is good, the green power pluses are mostly fine but no one wants to pay to play this way.
Global sales of plug-in cars are fizzling even if Tesla is trumpeting a US showroom success (thanks to massive government subsidies) that means its Model S outsold the about-to-be-replaced Benz C-Class last month.
Here, Nissan has slashed the price of its plug-in Leaf by $7000 and has an $85-a-week repayment plan to entice buyers. But the numbers are poor and even Carlos Ghosn— global boss of the Nissan-Renault alliance that leads the mainstream conversion to battery power— says it’s going to take yet more time to turn electric power into anything beyond an oddity.
We’re expecting the Renault Zoe next year. It drives well and looks good but Renault Australia has effectively cancelled its Fluence electric car because Better Place— the start-up energy company that’s in all sorts of trouble— can’t deliver on plans for batteryswap stations across Australia.
But there is something new that could also help and it plugs into one of the oldest maxims in the car business. That is: racing improves the breed. It applies to V8s and it works just as well— or better— in a new category called Formula E. Think of it as F1 with batteries. Twenty cars in 10 teams are planned. Renault is an early adopter, supplying cars and power packs, and TAG-Heuer wants to time the action and get a nice green rub-off for its watch business.
The plug-in racers are set to run in 2014 in a new world championship that takes the whisper-quiet contenders into the hearts of Rome, Rio, London and Bangkok. But the key to Formula E is support from Paris, the global headquarters of the FIA.
The FIA is responsible for overall governance of world motorsport, but is taking a growing role in road safety and the future of the automobile. That includes electrification.
The conversion plan looks shakier in Australia, because we rely on dirty coal combustion for almost all our power, but it still has plenty going for it. A bunch of hi-tech single seaters will highlight the latest electric power developments and, provided no one runs out of zap, it’s a formula for potential success that could revive another of those hoary old slogans from the past.
You know it: win on Sunday, sell on Monday. This reporter is on Twitter
Early adopter: Renault hopes its Formula E racer will improve the breed