Tiny EV Commuter Cars Heading Mainstream

Prototype i-MiEV shown at Geneve Motor Show sketch Source MitsubishiIf batteries aren’t yet up to the task of electrifying the family beater, why not shrink the beater? French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroën kicked off the Geneva Motor Show this morning announcing it was joining an accelerating embrace of this logic. The Paris-based manufacturer revealed this morning that it is pursuing a deal with Mitsubishi Motor to develop a compact Peugeot for sale in Europe next year based on Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV, the 100-mile-range commuter car Mitsubishi plans to roll out in Japan this summer.

Plenty more of these little four-wheelers are in the automotive pipeline. Daimler will sell a battery version of its popular Smart Fortwo next year, and Volkswagen is engineering a commuter EV called the Audi Up! with a top speed of 130 kilometers/hour and roughly 100 kms of range. Renault is engineering a pair of battery-powered , to be produced starting in 2011.

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Deja Vu as France Plans National EV Charging Network – Again

paris-ev-charge-station-sign-credit-peter-fairleyFrance’s government launched a working group this week to coordinate installation of a standardized national charging network for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and battery-powered EVs. Many may be experience deja vu, so to speak, because this would apparently be the second such charging network the country has installed.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has set a goal of seeing 100,000-plus electric-mode vehicles on the road in 2012 and has offered French automakers bailout funding partially tied to development of EVs as summarized by Earth Times. But as French state minister for industry Luc Chatel told French business magazine Usine Nouvelle [French], “Their battery serves no point without the infrastructure to go with it.” Hence the working group struck last week, representing automakers, energy distributors such as state-owned nuclear utility EDF, municipalities and other players, which is to deliver a plan in June.

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Lutz Departure Another Modest Sign of Modernization

GM's-Bob-Lutz-with-the-7-seater-Buick-TerrazaMany in the green car movement are cheering the announcement that Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman, will retire at the end of 2009. Environmental Defense Fund automotive guru John DeCicco celebrates the news on HybridCars.com today, calling Lutz part of a “cohort of corporate leaders who rose to the top eerily disconnected from the parallel rise of environmental values in American culture.” But a speech last week by Hyundai North America’s CEO — billed as a wake-up call by the Detroit News — reinforces the impression that changing the industry’s environmental perspective will require a much broader shift in personnel.

Lutz earned the ire of the environmentally-inclined for two reasons. As product development chief he contributed to GM’s reliance on ever larger and less fuel-efficient SUVs trucks. And he made headlines with his contempt for the theory of climate change. Dallas-based D Magazine quoted a private conversation with journalists just one year ago in which Lutz called global warming a, “total crock of ****.”

Lutz added, according to D, that, “my opinion doesn’t matter.” But how could that be, with GM gearing up to woo environmentally-minded consumers with advanced vehicles such as the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt? Such comments reverberate louder still within the industry, signaling to junior engineers that an environment-be-damned ethic endures in Detroit’s board rooms.

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