Will the European Parliament’s decision to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2035 also boost the development of hydrogen cars, alongside 100% electric vehicles?
Laurent Rossi: That’s what we have the weakness to believe at Alpine, yes! We are working a lot on hydrogen in the Renault group as a technology parallel to electricity. There are two branches and we are not going to oppose them. They can be parallel and serve completely different purposes. So, we imagine that it could be a way forward, even if there are industrial constraints linked to the SEVESO directive. It is not easy. But, in the same way, fifteen years ago, when someone was driving an LPG vehicle down the street, everyone said to themselves “it’s going to blow up in our face!”. “. Today, you don’t know that there are plenty of them parked in your parking lot! In ten years, we will probably have better control of all the technology and the value chain. And maybe hydrogen will be a viable alternative for uses with atypical demand, even if it’s a very small portion of the park. For example for very heavy loads, in customer use as well as in competition use. So we explore that.
This decision could also call synthetic fuels into question, in Europe at least. Is it something that appeals to you? Your competitor Porsche, in particular, believes a lot in this technology…
I don’t know if it’s a totally final decision, it still needs to be ratified at the country level. I interpret it as a course, a kind of signal of a desire to move towards what is sustainable. There are ten years left to realize whether this is the right way or not, also depending on the rate of adoption and the difficulty of developing electricity. So we have time to see it coming. In terms of technology, it’s tomorrow, that’s true. But that still leaves us a lap or two to “play”, knowing that a technology and a range of vehicles that carry it develop and last 7 to 10 years.
At the level of production cars, what can you tell us about Alpine’s plans for the next few years?
That we already have a product portfolio of three models that will be released in 2024, 2025 and 2026, and whose development is very well underway. The products for 2024 and 2025 pass development stages within the Renault group. These are almost points of no return: it’s a good sign! The third vehicle – which will be nothing but the successor to the A110 – is planned for 2026. So we have a little more time and we will see how it will synchronize with the announced end of life of the current A110 . The constraints that will be imposed by the GSR2 and Euro 7 standards will hurt these cars very badly; whatever happens, it will also be difficult for all thermal vehicles to overcome these pitfalls.
Will the next A110 be electric?
Yes, our next three vehicles will all be electric. There will be no thermal – nor hybrid either because their size does not lend itself to it and that would make no sense: we would end up just combining the disadvantages of the two technologies and not the advantages! Our real mastery of chassis and electrics, at Renault, means that we very seriously believe that we can release ultra-sporty electric products. The “mules” already rolling today confirm this optimism! We will be able to meet the challenge of always producing Alpines, that is to say vehicles with sporting DNA and a “motorsport” vocation within easy reach. Afterwards, we will see if the electric develops enough to be able to extend the range beyond these templates. Otherwise, it will be alternative technologies, always 100% “ sustainable (sustainable, editor’s note), that’s the goal. We are in the process of reboot our brand. We restart it and it must be viable for a long time.
He does‘there would therefore be nothing “thermal” in the pipes of Alpine ?
I said that the first three will be electric and that we are studying alternative avenues. I will rephrase: there will be no more thermals as we know it today. A hydrogen combustion engine is a thermal one: it makes noise, it has combustion. I also mean by this that the internal combustion engine can live beyond purely fossil fuel. We are all employees of the Renault group and we share technology. We have a common project that links the engine engineers of Viry to the engine engineers of Renault. They are developing “hydrogen” versions – concepts to be exact – of combustion engines, applicable to large series or more limited series, like ours. So here it is… you have the answer to your question! Carry out technology transfer – whether in electricity or hydrogen – between the competition department and the departments who develop road cars is at the heart of our brand project. We see each other very regularly, there are permanent contacts between the two entities. Before, there would rarely have been an engineer from Viry who would have gone to explain to the Technocentre engineer why the titanium valves are very interesting for the Clio. Today, they both talk to each other to understand the chemistry of the modules and cells of a battery, cooling, control of repeatability, state of charge… We accumulate a lot of knowledge in the disciplines of sprint and endurance, which is very useful for delivering performance on the client side, and vice versa. The millions of kilometers that are covered by our customers also help us a lot in Formula 1. Today, when we encounter problems with our batteries – like all the manufacturers involved in F1 – we sit down with our friends at the Technocentre and are very glad that they had to solve problems for ten years on the Zoé! For now, it’s very useful!