Renault ZE Road show

The Zoe

I got up this morning knowing that I would have to go along to the ZE (Zero Emission) road show that Renault was putting on. Mostly these kind of shows are about a car company blowing its own trumpet and saying that the car they are about to bring out is the best thing since Christopher Columbus discovered America, or they just try to “sell” their product to the waiting press. What I got was something completely different, Renault were genuinely proud of the products that were on display, it was like they had all helped bring this range of cars to the Irish road and I was about to drive their little babies.

It takes a monumental effort to bring one car to the road, but it takes real passion and dedication to bring an entire range out, and then equip them all with electric engines, you have to admire a company willing to take a plunge like that, nonetheless Renault are well on the way to achieving just that.

While most other car companies are bringing out just one electric or hybrid car Renault are going for 4 of them with plans for more. It’s a rather large gamble, the Renault – Nissan Alliance are investing 4 billion into the zero emissions programme, there are 1000 staff at Renault and another 1000 at Nissan working solely on electric vehicles.

Affordability is the key word of the day, “Renault’s  aim  is  to  market  electric vehicles  at  prices  comparable  with  those  of  a  diesel-powered  car  of  an equivalent size and equipment level. The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of electric vehicles will be similar to that of internal combustion-engined vehicles from launch.” Inside of 18 months Renault aim to have the entire infrastructure in place that’s needed to run electric cars, this includes an agreement with ESB for charging stations, workshops and spare batteries.

The Fluence

Of course driving the car will take a bit more planning than driving its fossil fuel alternative, there’s the little matter of recharging the batteries. The range of the Fluence and Kangoo is 160kms, with passengers and things in the boot that will be less just as it is for any car, the more weight you carry the worse the MPG. There will be 3 ways to get a full tank of electricity. Standard charge of 6-8 hours, using a fast charge station will get an 80% charge in 20 minutes and the ability to swap your empty battery for a full one in 3 minutes, you won’t need a set of spanners, your dealer will look after that.

After a short speech given by the charismatic Eric Basset the MD of Renault Ireland we were let loose with the cars, we were reminded that these are prototypes and are worth a million Euro each. Trying not to think about crashing a million Euro I hopped into the drivers seat of the Fluence ZE, the first thing I noticed was that there were no lights, bells or screens telling you where the power is coming from, it’s just an automatic car, it even has a standard key. Foot on the brake, turn the key and…..nothing, some of the dials moved on the dash but no noise, an eerie silence so I selected D, let my foot off the brake and the car rolled forward. This being an electric car there is only two gears, forward and reverse the technical name for the transmission is direct drive, with reducer and forward/reverse inverter. The motor produces 70kw/95hp with 226nm of torque, it may not sound like much but the power is there all the time, no waiting to get the revs up, if you push the accelerator to the floor you get all the power all the time. Even though it can rev up to 11,000rpm there’s just a faint whirr of a fan while the speed climbs constantly, when you lift off the batteries begin recharging, there’s a small dial on the dashboard telling you if you’re using power or recharging, on the road it feels like a Renault, soft and comfortable even with the 250kg battery in the back, which will be moved under the floor for the production model which means a 300ltr boot. It’s just like any saloon car to drive, and that’s the key, this is a real car a normal car, not a gimmick it’s a car you can use every day for albeit short journeys

The Kangoo van was also available for driving; it looked just like any Kangoo van on sale now except for the charging port on the front of the car. Reversing it was a little scary because the car makes no noise you become acutely aware of anyone standing or walking behind the van they won’t hear you moving. Strange as it may seem, Renault are researching sounds that can be used when the cars are going less than 70kph, there is talk of an MP3 player being put in so you can choose your own sounds but I doubt that will happen, much more likely is car sounds being played through a speaker. The batteries are already under the floor of the Kangoo the cargo space is between 3 and 3.5 meters cubed and it can carry 650kg.

There are two more cars in the range, The Zoe which will be a hatchback of similar size to the current Clio with a range of 200kms, finally the weird looking Twizy which is going to be an urban car, by the way the pictures you see here of the Twizy is the finished article, the Zoe will look different but the basic shape will remain, both of them will be released in 2012.

There’s still a huge amount of work for Renault to do before you’ll see these cars in the showrooms, but they seem committed to the project with good firm dates in mind. Renault are set to produce a range of electric cars for every taste, they are really trying hard to cover all the bases. What was a niche market Renault are now opening up to be a main stream segment, this is Renault in full attack mode and it’s great to see. Expect to hear a lot more about Renault’s electric future in the coming months, until then you can read the full Renault ZE Press release and get all the latest info from the ZE website There’s loads more pictures here