Electric Cars Gather Speed
David Gauthier Villars, Wall Street Journal Online (subscription required)
In late 2005, France's state-run postal service began a trial of eight experimental in an effort to meet a government requirement to reduce pollution.
Not only did the vans work well and prove cheaper to operate than gasoline-powered ones, but the mailmen who drove them reported higher job satisfaction. Now, La Poste is working on a five-year plan to replace the bulk of its 48,000-vehicle fleet with electric cars.
"The car works great, with almost no maintenance," says Patrick Widloecher, La Poste's director for environmental affairs. "We're ready to order more." ...
The cars La Poste used were developed by Société de Véhicules Électriques (SVE), ... and were outfitted with a specially designed lithium-ion battery developed by a joint venture of Milwaukee car-parts maker Johnson Controls Inc. and French battery company Saft Groupe. ...
SVE has yet to settle on a price for its electric car, and it isn't clear how much La Poste will have to pay to increase its fleet. But the car will be significantly more expensive than a traditional gasoline-powered vehicle because of the high cost of the lithium-ion battery, which La Poste says would account for about 60% of the unit price. The mail company says it will save on operating expenses because charging the electric car with electricity costs about one-sixth what it would spend to fill up the tank with gasoline.
SVE plans to make only a few cars at first. The French company expects to begin volume production toward year end with the assembly of 1,000 vehicles and, from 2009, gradually ramp up production to about 20,000 a year. That would be a fraction of the two million vehicles sold in France every year, though still more than all the other electric cars ever produced.
To widen the potential market for its electric vehicles, SVE has developed a version of its van equipped with a small diesel engine. The engine can help recharge the battery on the go or provide additional torque on highways, removing the range cap that hampers purely electric vehicles. Such cars are often called "plug-in hybrids" because they can be recharged on a plug or with gasoline.
I have suggested this idea several times for the U.S. post office. I wish that they, along with other government agencies, would spearhead a drive for BEVs and PHEVs.
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