DETROIT – Mobi.E, a Portuguese public-private consortium that includes the Renault Nissan Alliance, hopes its ambitious electrification strategy serves as a blueprint for others to follow.
When the project was announced in 2008, Prime Minister Jose Socrates said Portugal “aims at being a laboratory for future electric cars,” noting the final objective was to have at least 10% of the nation’s car fleet to be electric by 2020.
The “laboratory” Socrates spoke of now is going full tilt, as Mobi.E collaborators are busy installing 1,300 public electric-vehicle charging stations in 25 cities.
While 1,300 may not sound like a lot in sprawling countries such as the U.S., for Portugal, with a population of about 10 million people, it is significant.
Mobi.E spokesman Renato Pereira says Portugal’s energy infrastructure makes it the ideal location for the project.
“We have a decade’s investment, at least, in renewable energies,” he tells Ward’s in an interview.
“Nearly 50% of our electricity is coming from renewable energies, mostly wind, and we’re going to increase that by 2020 to at least 60%,” he says.
The charging stations, all of which will be installed by June, will be located in places such as public parking lots, shopping centers, hotels, airports and gasoline stations. EV users will require only an identification card to access the network.
“The Mobi.E card will be like a credit card, and you will receive a bill from your energy provider,” Pereira says.
The stations will be able to charge a vehicle in six to eight hours using wind energy produced during the night, as well as rapid charging points that will energize a vehicle in less than 30 minutes.
Pereira says the limited range of EVs, most of which can travel less than 100 miles (161 km) fully charged, poses no problem in Portugal.
Aside from the occasional jaunt to Madrid, a popular getaway spot for many Portuguese, 80% of drivers in the country travel less than 100 miles (160 km) per day, he says. “The daily commute would be within EV range.”
In addition to providing technical expertise, the Renault Nissan Alliance picked Portugal as one of the first two countries in Europe to receive the all-electric Nissan Leaf last December.
But even with the handful of Leafs now in Portugal, there remains a wide discrepancy between the number of EVs available and the vast recharging network.
Pereira says about 50 EVs now are on the road in Portugal. In addition to the Leaf, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Peugeot iOn and Citroen C-Zero are available.
The Mobi.E consortium plans to bolster the number of EVs in the country with a new model designed and developed by partner CEIIA (Centre for Excellence and Innovation in the Automotive Industry).
Dubbed Mobicar, the 3-passenger EV is to begin production this year at an assembly plant that employs about 200 workers in the western city of Vendas Novas.
About 350 test units will be produced this year, with another 5,000 expected in 2012. The vehicle’s lithium-ion batteries will come from a Renault Nissan Alliance plant in Portugal.
The Mobicar, with an expected range of more than 100 miles, also will be built for export, says Helena Silva, general manager-CEIIA.
“In Europe, there are a lot of consumers that are interested (in the Mobicar),” Silva tells Ward’s. “It’s mainly a technology to export. Portugal is too small to absorb all the units.”
Silva says the Mobicar will be low-cost at first, retailing for less than E10,000 ($14,577), including a home-charging unit.
The Mobicar also will help Portugal build a network of suppliers, she says, noting about 85% of the technology going into the car will be developed locally.
Pereira says the Mobi.E project’s impact will reach far beyond Portugal. “We’re already in advanced stages of discussions with different countries and regions to develop partnerships and implement this kind of project,” he says.