Renault Zoe – Game Changer

Renault Zoe 2013 (Image: Renault.com)
Renault Zoe 2013 (Image: Renault.com)

Background

I have been intending for a long time to right up my views on why the Zoe is a ‘game changer’, i.e. why it is such a significant vehicle. With the various launch delays there seemed to be no urgency, but now the Zoe is actually about to be delivered to its first customers it seems like the perfect time to put pen to paper.

In my view the time of the electric car has come – however, here I want to consider that a given (I will likely return to that topic in a later post) and look at the reasons why the Zoe is special, a game changer, and why I believe it will have a big impact on the market.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

Definition of game changer
noun

“an event, idea, or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current way of doing or thinking about something”

I believe the Zoe hits this mark because it has the potential to revolutionise personal transport in terms of cost, convenience and – most importantly – climate change impact.

There are other electric cars out there, of course – most notably the Nissan LEAF, Chevrolet Volt (Opel/Vauxhall Ampera) and Mitsubishi i-MiEV (Peugeot iOn/Citroen C-Zero). They have been on the market since 2010 and are showing constant, but slow, growth. They are generally being refreshed to improve their performance and specifications, and to lower prices, but this change is incremental. It is unlikely they will have significantly greater impact on the market in the future than they have at present, though of course sales should continue to grow solidly over time in line with general increasing EV market share.

I see the Zoe as combining a significant number of improvements in key areas to produce, overall, a package that is a game changer. I can see it having a massive impact on the market in a similar way to Ford’s original Model T – that car was not the only one available at the time, but its combination of capability and low price produced a revolution in car ownership. The Zoe has the ability to repeat that revolution in the major shift that is beginning as the world transitions its cars from fossil fuels to electricity.

Market View

Of course, I am not the first person to see the Zoe as special or a game changer, and certainly won’t be the last. Here are some quotes that have caught my eye:

“The Renault ZOE could be a game changing electric car thanks to a low price and fast charging system”

Torque News

“Never has a supermini caused so much excitement, but Renault’s near imminent launch of the ZOE supermini is expected to be a game-changer for electric vehicles, bringing them within the reach of a much wider audience.”

Green Car Website

“Renault Zoe is the most important new-generation EV to date”

Eco-Drive.co.uk

“I have been saying this since the Zoe concept was first shown: I believe it is the model that will take electric cars in to the mainstream.”

ConnEVted Blog

“Could Renault’s Zoe be a game-changer in the electric car market? It might only be going on sale in Europe, but several signs are pointing towards it being significantly more popular than cars like the Nissan Leaf.”

Green Car Reports

“Renault’s Zoe electric car could be a game changer for the French company.”

Cars Guide

“Zoe is the best-priced, most attractive and easy to use electric car to date.”

Auto Express

The Zoe Package

So what is it about the Zoe ‘package’ – its specification, purchase and ownership – that makes it special? While this discussion is about the Zoe versus other electric cars, it should also be considered in the context of replacing conventional cars. Therefore it is important to give that context at the outset – compared to an equivalent internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle, such as the Renault Clio, it is quieter, generally cheaper to own and run, smoother to drive, less dirty and polluting, and has the potential to reduce the production of climate change greenhouse gases.

With that stated, I believe these are the key points in a comparison of the Zoe with other electric cars:

1. Market Leading Range

Range is often cited as the most significant shortcoming of electrics vehicles (EVs). While it is typically overstated by non-owners, and accepted by EV owners, it is nonetheless a significant consideration. The range of the Zoe under the 2012 European (NEDC) system is 210km (130 miles) which compares favourably with other fully mass market electric cars: the LEAF at 175km (109 miles), the i-MiEV at 150km (93 miles) and the Ford Focus Electric at 122km (75 miles).

The luxury Tesla EV is not considered a direct competitor since even its lowest cost version, which has a range of about 260km (160 miles) on the US EPA system, starts at about three times the cost of the Zoe.

2. Affordable Price

Zoe is half the price of the Nissan LEAF, the most comparable electric car. The key to this difference is that the Zoe battery is leased separately rather than included in the purchase price. This approach immediately makes the Zoe affordable, putting it at about the same price as the equivalent Renault Clio (after typical government subsidies), while the battery lease cost should be no more than the monthly saving in fossil fuel. An additional benefit is that this removes any worries about deterioration of the battery – if it drops significantly in capability then Renault guarantees to replace it under the terms of the lease. There is also the potential (not promised by Renault) that the capacity of the battery (and hence the range of the car) could increase over the lifetime of the lease as battery technology improves.

3. Chameleon Charger

The Zoe comes with its own built-in ‘Caméléon’ fast charger – this is a radical approach not available on any other car. In the short term this feature will probably not appear to be very significant. Most EV owners charge their cars overnight on their domestic supply. Other EVs provide a typical choice of charging at 3.3kW (LEAF) or 6.6kW (Ford Focus Electric) and the Zoe will be similar, though at the higher end (about 7kW), on a standard single-phase supply. However, the Chameleon can also use a three-phase supply, and so accept up to 22kW – and in many European countries such supplies are relatively common in family homes. This gives the potential of an 80% charge in about an hour at home (and in about half an hour at an even more powerful commercial charge point).

The longer term effect is perhaps less obvious – when fast chargers are installed in large numbers throughout Europe there will be a choice for installers between providing expensive DC fast chargers suitable for the LEAF and other EVs, or simply providing cheap three-phase outlets. If they choose the latter, only the Zoe will be able to use them.

4. Heat Pump

Fossil fuel cars are so inefficient that they provide lots of spare heat to warm the cabin in cold weather – a distinct advantage over most electric cars which typically use a significant proportion of their battery charge (and hence range) when they need to warm the cabin. The Zoe instead uses a highly efficient heat pump (essentially an air conditioner in reverse) to provide significant cabin heating in cold weather without a major impact on range.

5. Looks

This is a tricky one to gauge. The Zoe is different from the most popular EVs to date (the LEAF and i-MiEV) because it looks like a conventional car – in fact, in most dimensions and other respects it is almost identical to the new style Renault Clio. While a small proportion of potential owners want a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (and I include myself in that), it is most likely that major sales will only come for a car that is a direct replacement for an ICE in terms of looks. It seems that most people don’t want other people to know that they are driving an EV, or at least they don’t want to appear to be ‘shouting about it’. Essentially, if it looks like a typical car then that is one less obstacle to most people buying one.

These five characteristics together produce a package that is unsurpassed in the EV marketplace. Renault has created a vehicle that is head and shoulders above others. The litmus test now is whether the market exists for electric cars in general, for if it does then the Zoe will lead it. Initial indications are very good. This is an exciting time in the electric transport revolution – just watch this space.