Renault plans Korea?s first mass-produced electric vehicles

Renault Samsung, the local affiliate of French automaker Renault SA, said it plans to introduce the all-electric SM3 to the public in 2013 in what is to become the country’s first mass production of zero-emission cars, CEO Francois Provost said.

“We have plans to mass produce electric cars out of our Busan plant, we will confirm the details at the beginning of next year,” Provost recently told The Korea Herald.

“For Renault Samsung, (the emergence of electric cars) is a big opportunity because the Korean market is very well-adapted to the application needs. Most of the drivers are compatible with battery technologies, it’s an advanced country, and it has the key industrial players involved in battery technologies,” the CEO said.

The company recently unveiled plans to launch 500 pilot EV cars by December 2012 after it was chosen as one of two carmakers to receive tax breaks for the production of zero-emission cars.

Dubbed the “quick-drop battery exchange system,” the electric SM3 will travel up to 160 kilometers on a 250 kg lithium-ion battery that can be replaced through a fully automated battery station in less than 90 seconds.

The plan is Provost’s first major project after he was named to head the French group’s Korean unit in September.

Comparing his experience from the group’s Russian operations as chief of operations, Provost expressed confidence in his team’s ability to meet goals set for electric vehicles as it competes with Kia’s EV Ray due for mass production also in 2013.

“I’m very much impressed with the high skills of workers here at the Busan plant and other parts of operations. Almost every day, I get requests from Europe and South America to transfer Korean engineers,” he said.

The company will be importing the all-electric car Fluence ZE from its parent group to supply them to government agencies until mid-2012. Its Busan plant will take over the role by localizing battery and motor production by the end of next year.

The all-electric SM3 will compete with Kia Motors Corp. which also unveiled plans to launch the mass production of the zero-emission version of its Ray compact in 2013.

Renault Samsung’s SM3 ZE and Kia’s Ray were chosen as the first two electric cars to receive tax breaks starting January 2012. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy on Dec. 21 said that tax breaks of up to 4.2 million won ($3,600) will be available for consumers buying SM3 ZE and Ray, which are priced at 60 million won and 45 million won. The ministry will have a 70 billion won budget for electric car development by 2014, including the building of electric charging stations.

Cynthia J. Kim,