The two companies said Thursday that they are seeking partners to build a network of charging stations across the country. They also have plans to create an "Electric Mobility Operator" to manage them.
Renault and EDF said they would be ready by January 2010 with a study of the engineering, regulatory and financial requirements to set up a France-wide electric vehicle infrastructure.
Renault touted its plan on the same day French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his government will pledge €400 million ($549 million) to support the development of electric and hybrid cars. France owns 15 percent of Renault and 85 percent of EDF.
Renault and EDF didn't disclose the expected costs of the project or name any potential partners.
That could leave the door open to Better Place, the Palo Alto-based startup that is seeking to build networks of battery-replacement stations where future electric vehicles could switch out batteries, avoiding the long charge times now required to power them up. The company, founded by former SAP executive Shai Agassi and formerly named Project Better Place, raised $200 million in capital in October.
Better Place has already partnered with the Renault Nissan Alliance – a cross-shareholding partnership formed between the French and Japanese automakers in 1999 – to mass-produce electric cars and bring battery-replacement stations to Israel by 2010 (see Bumpy Road Ahead for Project Better Place?). The companies have a similar project underway in Denmark (see Sci-fi Inspired Vehicle to Hit California Roads).
Better Place announced Thursday that it would look into Renault and EDF's new project, adding that it would like to work with them and others to develop a "pan-European" electric vehicle network.
But others in the electric vehicle field have questioned the Better Place model, saying that new fast-charging technology would be a better route for a new electric vehicle infrastructure (see Electric-Car Firms Push Alternative to Project Better Place's Idea).
Automakers and utilities in Europe and the United States have struggled with questions like these as they consider how to handle an increasing number of plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles on the road.
General Motors has plans to bring its plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt to market by November 2010. In July, GM formed a partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute and utilities in 37 states to tackle the challenge.
Toyota has said it will bring a plug-in version of its Prius hybrid to market by the end of the decade as well. The company entered into a partnership with EDF this year to promote its new vehicle in France.
Renault Nissan Alliance is backing all-electric vehicles rather than plug-in hybrids. Carlos Ghosn, president and CEO of both companies, has said he wants Nissan to launch a battery-powered car in America and Japan by 2010 and have it and other electric vehicles available globally by 2012.
On Thursday, the alliance added France to the list of the first markets set to receive those new electric vehicles. Besides France, Israel and Denmark, the alliance has partnerships to bring electric vehicles to Portugal, Tennessee and Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, it announced.