The cir­cuit break­ers

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­

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

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