All posts by Trevor Larkum

Software engineer and electric vehicle advocate

Zoe News September 2012 Week 3 – Future of Electric Car, First Test Drive

The Future of the Electric Car

Zoe Braking System (Image: Renault)
Zoe Braking System (Image: Renault)

During this week Renault put out various technical briefings on the operation of subsystems in the Zoe and its other EVs. On 14 September Automobile Challenges carried an article giving details of the Zoe’s braking system, and its improvements over that in the Fluence ZE. In the Fluence ZE regenerative braking occurs when the driver releases the accelerator; the brake pedal operates a conventional hydraulic braking circuit. In the Zoe, the brake pedal operates a system that blends braking effort from regeneration and a hydraulic system, taking account of the driving situation:

“If one believes those responsible for its development at Renault, Aymeric Bruneau and Basile De-Branche, this decoupled brake pedal system can extend by about 10% the range of the Renault ZOE by doubling the rate of kinetic energy recovery compared to its predecessor, the Fluence ZE… As well as depression of the brake pedal, the system continuously measures the vehicle speed, the differential speed of the four wheels, the rate of lateral acceleration and the steering angle.”

Zoe Climate Control System (Image: Renault)
Zoe Climate Control System (Image: Renault)

On 17 September Auto-Addict gave details of Renault’s plans for development of EV technology, highlighting improvements made between the Fluence and the Zoe. This included coverage of the braking system, but also touched on the climate control and charging systems. On the heating system it said:

“Conventional motor vehicles have abundant ‘free’ heat provided by the engine (two-thirds of the energy contained in the fuel is dissipated as heat). In winter an electric car gets its heat energy from the battery, which can have a significant impact on battery life. The ZOE replaces the electrical resistance heating of the Fluence by a heat pump that is on average twice as effective when the outside temperature is 0-7ºC, which corresponds to a gain of 25% in range which would increase it from 80 to 100 kilometres. Other benefits are that the system is more comfortable than ordinary car heating because it heats much faster, and also it can be used for air conditioning.”

First Test Drive

Zoe in Munich (Image: AutoBild.de)
Zoe in Munich (Image: AutoBild.de)

On 21 September AutoBild.de posted an early driving review of the Zoe, following a brief test drive at Munich’s ‘Allianz Zentrums für Technik’. It gives an insight into the start-up process:

“The start button is pressed, to a quiet computer start-up sound playing (as we know from the Nissan Leaf) and the message “Ready” appears. Move the somewhat long lever to D, and there you go, electric drive. The 65-kW motor and the torque of 220 Nm are available immediately providing the typical electric car sprinting power and are sufficient for a car of Polo size. The narrow instruments are all digital, even a picture of Zoe herself appears.”

Zoe News September 2012 Week 2 – Production at Flins

Flins Production

Zoe Under Construction at Flins (Photo: Reuters)
Zoe Under Construction at Flins (Photo: Reuters)

On 9 September the French LA Tribune reported on the start of production of the Clio at Renault’s Flins factory, to be followed by the Zoe. Mass production of the Clio IV began in July at 30 cars per day, planned to increase to 300 per day. The Flins site starts two new models almost simultaneously with the manufacture of the Zoe just beginning. Eric Marchiol, Director, said:

“We build 5 per day and should increase to 30-40 in November.”

Renault has invested €150 million in Flins for the Clio IV, but also for the Zoe. In order to improve quality Renault added 340 new tools for stamping and 150 robots for handling sheet metal.

Zoe News September 2012 Week 1 – Moscow Motor Show, Zoe Chargemaster, Truth About Electric Cars

Moscow Motor Show

Zoe (white, in background) on Renault Stand at Moscow Motor Show (Photo: Renault)
Zoe (white, in background) on Renault Stand at Moscow Motor Show (Photo: Renault)

On 4 September Renault’s blog featured the opening of the Moscow Motor Show, which ran until 9 September. Renault became the leading foreign brand on the Russian market in the first half of 2012, and the market is the Group’s third biggest market after France and Brazil.

Renault displayed 21 vehicles on its stand. Alongside the legendary Type XB (also named “Tsarine” as it was used by the court of Nicholas II) were models that are made locally, like Logan, Sandero and Duster.

“The Moscow Motor Show is also an opportunity for Russians to discover Renault’s range of electric vehicles (ZOE and Twizy are among the models on the stand) and to learn more about its new design strategy, of which the Captur concept car provides a fine example.”

Chargemaster Fast Charger

On the same day it was announced that Chargemaster would be introducing new products at LCV2012, Cenex’s fifth Low Carbon Vehicle event.  These would include the launch of a 43kW charger for the Renault Zoe; no further details have yet been publicised.

Truth About Electric Cars

“Current favourite: the Renault Zoe beats the Nissan Leaf and Renault's Twizy and Fluence in terms of value” (Image and Caption: Telegraph.co.uk)
“Current favourite: the Renault Zoe beats the Nissan Leaf and Renault’s Twizy and Fluence in terms of value” (Image and Caption: Telegraph.co.uk)

On 6 September the Telegraph carried an article on ‘Electric cars: the truth about the cost – and range’. While it was quite negative about electric cars in general, it was complimentary about the Fluence, and then singled out the Zoe as the best buy:

“So should you, the would-be electric car buyer, be placing an order for a Fluence on the grounds that it’s the best of the existing EV bunch? I suggest not, because there’s an even better all-electric car due in Britain early next year.
“It’s a five-door hatchback called the Renault Zoe and at only £13,650 it’s almost half the price of the admittedly slightly larger Leaf. More importantly, Renault claims that the Zoe’s real-world range should be in the region of the psychologically important 100 miles.
“If you’ve got a mere £49 to spare, Renault says that’s all you need to get on the waiting list. With the Fluence and, to an even greater extent, the forthcoming Zoe, at last the all-electric car begins to make sense both practically and financially.”

Zoe News August 2012 – Best Superminis, Cold Weather Testing

Best Superminis

Best Supermini Shortlist: Zoe (Photo: Renault)
Best Supermini Shortlist: Zoe (Photo: Renault)

On 7 August Auto Express presented a ‘Best Superminis’ shortlist: ‘The 10 best superminis you’ll be able to buy in the coming months’. Zoe came number nine in the list:

“No one has made a commitment to electric cars quite like Renault, and the Clio-sized Zoe is expected to be the big-seller, with tens of thousands finding homes every year. What sets the Zoe apart is its pricing structure: unlike the Nissan Leaf buyers pay from £13,650 for the car then rent the batteries for around £70 a month, making it a far more attractive proposition. Power comes from an 88bhp electric motor – 20bhp less than the Leaf – which is mounted on the front axle, while the battery pack is stuffed under the floor. Charging takes anywhere between 30 minutes from a industrial-spec fast charger to nine hours from a household socket. This provides 130 miles of driving before it’s time to top up again.”

Cold Weather Testing

Zoe in Cold Weather Testing (Photo: Renault)
Zoe in Cold Weather Testing (Photo: Renault)

On 17 August Renault released the third instalment of its Renault ZOE Confidential blog, this one about cold weather tests in Lapland. Judging by the vehicle’s registration number (HCU889), it was the same one that took part in the similar testsdescribed by Auto Express in March.

It sounds like the tests were comprehensive, covering driving and handling plus vehicle components including the battery and the charging system. Renault reported that the Zoe achieved top marks, especially compared to internal-combustion cars:

  • “motor start-up: exactly the same at -30°C as in temperate weather, i.e. immediately and silently. No engine warm-up, no smoke plumes, no clatter.
  • “first runs: the motor is not affected by the cold. Motorists can drive off straight away and floor the accelerator without having to warm the car up. Also, while in motion, the battery heats up and gradually improves the points mentioned above.
  • “heating: on top of being frugal, the heat pump provides heat fast. The car doesn’t need to be started several minutes beforehand.
  • “pre-conditioning system: to heat the cabin up a little and defrost the windows before taking off, drivers simply pre-program the heating and the car is at “room temperature” when they get in. This will never be possible with a combustion vehicle, where the engine needs to be turned on.
  • “Our engineers were pleasantly surprised by Renault ZOE – by the fast-action heat pump, by the strong performance of the battery on power in cold conditions and its ability to start the motor at very low temperatures, and by the car’s road holding, especially grip on slippery surfaces. The battery’s central and low position is a big advantage here.”

The use of a heat pump to provide heating in an EV is certainly an original and promising idea since its high efficiency should reduce energy consumption and so increase range, particularly in cold weather. There has been speculation that it could be transferred to the Nissan LEAF, the current best-selling EV from the Nissan-Renault alliance.

Renault Fluence and Twizy Test Drives

On 18 July I finally had a chance to test drive two of the vehicles in Renault’s Z.E. range of EVs, the Fluence Z.E. and the Twizy.

Fluence Z.E.

Fluence Z.E. Test Drive Vehicle (Photo: T. Larkum)
Fluence Z.E. Test Drive Vehicle (Photo: T. Larkum)

I had been in contact with my local Renault dealer, Marshalls in Milton Keynes, about opportunities for test drives since March. Although the Fluence Z.E. was launched in the UK and widely reviewed in February, examples for test drive did not appear until some months later. By July both the Fluence and Twizy were available and I went to test drive them, along with a group of friends.

Fluence Z.E. Test Drive Vehicle (Photo: T. Larkum)
Fluence Z.E. Test Drive Vehicle (Photo: T. Larkum)

The original Fluence is, of course, a fairly popular booted petrol car on the continent, though not available in the UK because hatchbacks are more popular here. I was quietly impressed by the Z.E. version – it drove very well, accelerated fast, turn corners confidently and all with five people on board. However, what was most obvious was just how much like a standard car it was. I believe this is a deliberate approach by Renault, as the Fluence is primarily aimed at fleets and company drivers. It doesn’t shout – in fact it barely whispers – electric drive.

Fluence Z.E. Interior, photographed in the rain (Photo: T. Larkum)
Fluence Z.E. Interior, photographed in the rain (Photo: T. Larkum)

Inside the controls and displays are understated and very similar to their petrol equivalents, and outside there is very little to give away that it’s electric – just a ‘Z.E.’ logo on the boot lid, and of course the absence of an exhaust pipe. If you want to drive an electric car but you don’t want anyone to know then the Fluence is your first choice!

Twizy

Next we took turns in a Twizy – Renault’s urban/city electric car, though technically it’s a quadricycle. It sits somewhere between a conventional car and a moped or scooter. It has four wheels like a car, but the basic model comes without doors and most of the luxury equipment people associate with a car (e.g. heater, sound system). Fortunately this example was ‘upgraded’ with doors, a useful accessory in UK weather and in fact at this point it was raining hard. Even these doors, however, don’t come with windows so you are still partly exposed to the elements (this is apparently to eschew the need for a heater/demister system).

Twizy Test Drive Vehicle (Photo: T. Larkum)
Twizy Test Drive Vehicle (Photo: T. Larkum)

It’s really a driver’s vehicle – although it can carry an adult passenger, the rear position has poor visibility and is more exposed to the weather (particularly to water spray from wet roads). To the driver, though, it is an exciting vehicle to drive. It handles well, very much like a go-kart. It is very low to the ground, and in fact you can see the road surface going past your feet as though you were on a motor bike. The ride is quite hard, even harsh, but this tautness means that it feels very stable and sure footed, even at high road speeds.

My Twizy Test Drive
My Twizy Test Drive

If I had to sum up the Twizy in just one word it would be: Fun! Whether it is a practical commuting vehicle I couldn’t say, but I can imagine that most owners look forward to spending time in their Twizy, something you can’t say for most drives these days.

And fortunately someone has answered for us that most important question – Will it Drift?!

To complete the Renault Z.E. line-up comes the Kangoo van. We didn’t get to try it out, but it is available for test drives.

Kangoo Electric Van Test Drive Vehicle (Photo: T. Larkum)
Kangoo Electric Van Test Drive Vehicle (Photo: T. Larkum)