Why I’m replacing my car with a Renault ZOE (Part 1/3)

Surya Van Lierde is an EV enthusiast from Belgium, a small country with an even smaller EV community because of the complete lack of any incentives.

Part 1: My journey towards buying an EV


Ever since I was about 10 or so I’ve been very concerned with environmental issues. Which is why I never liked cars. Which is why I didn’t get a license. Until I was 26. Not because I wanted to, but I was unemployed, and the authorities paid for the lessons to increase my chances of getting a job. I simply had to, or they were going to take away my benefits. Fair enough.

A year later I found a job some 50km away with no viable public transport option. So I had to get a car. Having seen the problems my parents had had with second-hand cars, I opted to buy a new car. Of course, I looked for the car with the lowest fuel usage I could find that both fit my budget and was practical enough for my needs. After a long search I settled on the Citroen C2 1.4 diesel, with a stated fuel usage of 4.3l/100km (that’s about 54 mpg for those in the US). Of course, at that time no electric cars were available, but I had heard rumors about Tesla and others working on electric cars. So when buying the Citroen, I asked the dealer ‘And when can I replace it with an electric car?’ They looked at me like I came from another universe. Electric cars? ‘That will take a loooong time’ was their answer. Well, not that long actually.

In the 7 years that I’ve had the car, I’ve driven it about 190.000km. The car repair shop is always impressed that I have driven that much in such a small car. Indeed, I’ve gone on vacation in this supermini a number of times. We’ve even gone to the UK for a camping trip with 3. The car was full, but it did what we expected of it. And it’s been very reliable. In those 7 years, repair bills have been about €800 in total. Many say I just got lucky. In any case, with the 200.000km mark approaching, the car is finally starting to show its age and it’s clear I’d better get a new car before the bills start skyrocketing.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the EV developments in the last couple of years so I would be better prepared when the day came I needed to replace my car. The first offerings were promising but not what I was looking for. The iMIEV’s range is too low, the Leaf is too big. And I want something as similar in size to the C2 as possible. So when the ZOE was first announced, it immediately drew my attention. It became clear that replacing my C2 with an EV would maybe be possible after all. Going for a hybrid didn’t really interest me, especially since the selection of plug-in models is extremely limited. In fact, the only hybrid in the class I’m looking at is the Toyota Yaris, which is not available as a plug-in of course. And it uses about the same amount of gas as my C2. Never mind Toyota, you’ll have to come up with something better than that!

So early in 2012 I started following the EV world more closely. Reading articles and watching reviews. The ZOE was planned for release late 2012. Unfortunately it was delayed. Unfortunately, because there was a government grant of 30% on the price of EVs, which ended on December 31st 2012. It was replaced with nothing. Which suddenly made any EV I would buy much more expensive. Well, too bad, I was still set on getting an EV!

As I looked more into EVs, I found the Fully Charged episodes by Robert Llewellyn especially useful as they don’t just parrot the press releases on the car but also touch on real-world usability and other issues that most reviewers don’t mention. After seeing his episode on the Renault ZOE my impression that this was probably the car for me was confirmed. But I wasn’t just going to try that car and buy it. I had to be sure that it wasn’t just the best choice on paper. So in the summer of 2013 I set out to try as many electric cars as I could.

Stay tuned for part 2 in the series where I detail my experiences with the different EVs and compare the pros and cons of each model.

A royal birthday for ZOE

A royal birthday for ZOE (Image: Renault)
A royal birthday for ZOE (Image: Renault)
  • One year after its launch in December 2012, ZOE blew out its first candle at the Château de Versailles, Renault’s partner location.
  • More than forty lucky owners will gather in the low gallery at Versailles, to talk about their experience with ZOE and conduct a first appraisal.
  • Named by EuroNCAP as the best supermini ZOE has already sold 10,000 units and has more surprises in store as we move into 2014…

An exceptional location for an exceptional car… The flagship vehicle in the Renault Z.E. range, ZOE is opening the gates of the Château de Versailles to celebrate its first birthday.

Following the partnership agreement signed by Renault and the Château de Versailles on July 29, 2013, almost 23 electric cars (10 Twizy, 10 Kangoo ZE, 3 ZOE) are used by employees (security guards for Versailles and Marly, gardeners, administration….). Thirty charging stations have been installed in the grounds. This partnership protects the environment of the gardens, and contributes to the comfort and safety of the 12 million annual visitors.

ZOE drivers are its best spokespeople. For this first anniversary, Renault received a huge and enthusiastic response when it invited owners to come and talk about their car and their experience with ZOE. Many believe that simply test driving an electric car is enough to make anybody want one: 98% of ZOE owners are satisfied and 97% would recommend it. Alongside driving pleasure, customers appreciate the comfort offered by ZOE: no noise, no vibrations and smooth acceleration (no gear shift).

In terms of safety, ZOE meets the highest standards. It was recently named “Best Electric Vehicle of 2013” by Euro NCAP, the independent test organization.

For Benoist, 50 years old, a doctor who loves new technologies, his car gives him a more relaxed approach to life:

“I took delivery of ZOE, my first new car, just over a month ago, and I love it. The fact that it’s so smooth and quiet makes it really comfortable to drive. And it’s funny to see how ZOE attracts looks and smiles from people who are clearly intrigued by electric cars”.

Renault is a pioneer and leader on the electric vehicle market in Europe, with market share of over 40% and already 10,000 ZOE vehicles sold to date. With many other manufacturers now starting to build electric cars, Renault already has a full line-up of electric vehicles and remains well ahead of the field.

Starting 2014 with good news, for consumers buying a new ZOE, Renault is launching “ZOE Access”, a new battery rental service from €49/month, targeting drivers with low mileage.

E-Car scheme plugs in with three Renault electric cars


E-Car scheme plugs in with three Renault electric cars (Image: Renault)
E-Car scheme plugs in with three Renault electric cars (Image: Renault)

The UK’s first entirely electric pay-per-use car club, E-Car Club, have launched a service at the University of Hertfordshire, using several Renault electric vehicles, in partnership with Source East and University of Hertfordshire.

One of the first schemes of its kind, it aims to improve mobility on a local level, whilst simultaneously reducing both the cost and environmental impact of each journey taken. E-Car will provide staff, students and members of the community with the convenience and flexibility of full-sized electric cars without the cost of owning one.

In the first instance, there will be three 100 per cent electric Renaults, two ZOE superminis and a Fluence Z.E. saloon, available for hire by the hour. Each vehicle has its own specially designated parking space and electric charging point at the de Havilland and College Lane Campus provided by Source East. The range of the Renault ZOE when fully charged is officially 130 miles, in the real world around 64 to 92 miles, which makes it perfect for regional journeys.

Anyone can become a member of the University of Hertfordshire E-Car Club and hire an E-Car for just £5.50 per hour. Members can book the vehicle by phone or online and the E-Car can be reserved for as little as an hour, or, as long as several days. Each member is provided with a smart card and secure code with which to access the electric car as well as E-Car Club cars across the UK.

The scheme should provide a low cost, low carbon, hassle free alternative to using your own car. E-Car takes care of everything; insurance, maintenance, cleaning and tax. Plus, members can join from 19 years of age.

Transport Minister, Baroness Kramer, recently commented:

“It’s inspiring to see a business like E-Car Club, which was only set up a couple of years ago, doing so much to promote ultra-low emission vehicles… E-Car Club is a scheme that kills three birds with one stone – congestion, cost and carbon.”

Car clubs have lots of benefits for communities and individuals, by taking cars out of circulation, reducing pressure on parking, making savings for families, reducing overall car use, and encouraging active travel.

Dr. Stephen Boffey, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Regional Affairs at the University of Hertfordshire, said:

“The University is always looking at ways to improve the travel choices for staff, students and the local community and we are proud to be the first university to launch an electric car club. We hope that by offering access to a low carbon form of transport, we can work together to reduce the cost and environmental impact of each journey undertaken.”

Chris Morris (Co-founder, E-Car Club) commented,

“The E-Car team and I are delighted to be launching this scheme in partnership with the University of Hertfordshire and Source East.”

“A first for the UK, we’re confident the programme will not only reduce transport emissions and costs for UH faculty, but provide a convenient, flexible and affordable transport option for University students as young as 19.”

“Starting with 3 cars available to hire by the hour across 2 campuses, we’re ready to increase the number of vehicles quickly as demand dictates. With hourly rates of only £5.50 and cars available 24/7, 365 days a year, we’re expecting the scheme to prove popular with a wide variety of users.”

Lifetime E-Car Membership is on offer for just £30 for those joining before 28th February using the following promotional code: ‘PRESSECAR114’. For more information, visit http://www.e-carclub.org.

The Joy of Public Charging

ZOE Charging at London Gateway services (Image: T. Larkum)
ZOE Charging at London Gateway services (Image: T. Larkum)

We recently attempted what was probably our most ambitious journey so far in the ZOE in a single day. We drove from home in Northampton to visit my parents at their home near Epsom in Surrey. Given the problems we had with public charging over the Christmas period, and the success we had with ‘little and often’ charging, it was an easy decision to use the latter approach.

The plan was straightforward – go down the M1 as usual and charge at Toddington services then, given the lack of public fast chargers on the M25 (our usual route), continue down the M1 towards central London and charge again at Scratchwood (‘London Gateway’) services. From the end of the motorway we would drive direct to Epsom to avoid the longer (but arguably faster) route round the M25.

The trip down was uneventful. There was no problem with charging at Toddington or London Gateway and we arrived in Epsom with more than half a charge remaining. After visiting, and late in the evening, we headed out to go home, just following the same route in the opposite direction. Having charged up at London Gateway heading north it was clear that we had enough charge to get home so we skipped the charge at Toddington and drove directly home instead. The distance each way was 82 miles, so the total journey was 164 miles.

I think it’s useful to point out that the two journeys were not symmetric – there is a big difference between heading home (where of course our home charger was waiting for us so we could arrive with minimal charge remaining) compared to heading to visit somewhere that has no charging available (so enough charge is required to return to a known charge point). The obvious lesson, perhaps, is to make use of the charger schemes available that provide free charge points to friends and family (such as the British Gas one).

In summary, the trip was very easy, straightforward and remarkably unstressful. Given we needed to stop each way anyway for comfort breaks the journey did not take much longer than it would have done in a combustion car. The benefits include the better driving experience and, of course, cheap fuel (all the charging was free except the initial home charge which was on Economy 7 – so about £1.80).

When the public charging infrastructure is operating correctly you wonder why it can’t always be like that – it just works!

New “low-mileage driver” offer for Renault ZOE

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

With Z.E. Access, Renault now proposes a battery rental offer adapted to the needs of customers driving under 5,000 km a year. Reserved for private customers buying a new ZOE, the offer starts at €49 a month for a minimum commitment of 36 months. Mileage is capped at 1,250 km per quarter.

Z.E. Access is particularly adapted to customers who drive short distances every day, corresponding to an average daily commute of 20 km, or 400 km a month. The new offer adds to the Z.E. Flex offer available since the launch of Renault ZOE and starting at €79 a month for three years with a mileage limit of 12,500 km a year.

(Source: Renault.com/global)