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by Tim Beissmann

The local launch of the Renault Fluence Z.E. has been postponed indefinitely following delays with the rollout of Australia’s electric vehicle infrastructure.

Renault Australia today confirmed its decision to set back the introduction of the Renault Fluence Z.E. until charge partner Better Place establishes a broader and more practically viable charging and battery-swapping network.

In June 2011, Renault announced the Fluence Z.E. small sedan would be available to select customers in Canberra during the second quarter of 2012 before going on sale to the public from a number of dealers across the country in the final quarter of the year.

The innovative design of the Fluence Z.E. allows owners to either recharge its circa-185km-range battery at a charge station or swap its depleted battery at a switch station for a fully charged one.

Australia’s switch station infrastructure was originally intended to be deployed this year, but Better Place spokeswoman Felicity Glennie-Holmes told CarAdvice hold-ups to the introduction of similar networks in the company’s launch markets Israel and Denmark – which were delayed until mid 2012 – meant the rollout of our local system was still at least six to 12 months away.

“We always said that the launch of the switch infrastructure in Australia would be 12 to 18 months behind our other markets,” Glennie-Holmes said.

She admitted Better Place’s original launch timing for its switch station infrastructure was “ambitious”.

“When we originally talked about switch networks around the world we had an ambitious plan.

“We’ve gone live in both Israel and Denmark and we have national coverage in both of those countries, but those deployments happened a little later than we anticipated, and so therefore the Australian deployment will also be a little later.”

Glennie-Holmes said delays were a natural part of introducing a new technology to a country.

“With any new technology there are always unexpected things that come up.

“Whether that’s in technology and software development or whether it’s in actual deployment or site acquisition, introducing a whole new way of driving to the world isn’t something that can be done overnight, so I think what we’ve experienced is the natural process of implementing a completely new system into different countries.”

While declining to comment on the number of switch stations planned for Australia’s network that’s now due for deployment between mid 2013 and early 2014, Glennie-Holmes said drivers could expect “good coverage across the metropolitan areas”.

“We’ve been doing some really detailed network planning, so we’ve mapped and analysed most of the driver experiences in the major metropolitan areas.

“We’ll first deploy in Canberra and progressively rollout across the rest of the country.”

Renault Australia corporate communications manager Emily Ambrosy admitted it was disappointing to be forced to delay the launch of the Fluence Z.E., but insisted the company remained committed both to electric cars and its partnership with Better Place.

“The delay in launching Fluence Z.E. is disappointing, however, delays are not uncommon when making significant changes in an established market,” Ambrosy said.

“We do still strongly believe in electric vehicles and continue to plan to commercialise them locally.”

The Renault Fluence Z.E. now appears unlikely to launch in Canberra until the second half of 2013 at the earliest, with a national rollout not expected before 2014.