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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
On 2 July the second instalment of the Zoe Confidential blog gave details of the Zoe crash testing undertaken at Renault’s Lardy Technical Center. Lardy, which opened in 1951, handles testing of all Renault engines and gearboxes. In 2011 the centre set up an electric vehicle unit for testing the motors and batteries used in Renault’s ZE line-up.
Lardy also handles the full range of passive safety tests, including front, side and rear collisions. The centre’s test rigs cover most kinds of real-life accident situation, the aim being to improve vehicle resilience and minimize the risk of bodily injury to occupants. One particular test is highlighted:
“That’s precisely where our visit starts, observing the installation of four dummies (two adult-sized ones at the front and two child-sized ones at the rear) in a superb white ZOE, which is set to be propelled against an obstacle at a speed of 65 km/h. Each crash test demands three days of preparation. Here we see the technicians making the final adjustments. The car’s bristling with sensors. The boot’s packed with electronic gear. And paint is being applied on the dummies so that the impact points on the car interior can be determined. Once everything’s ready, everyone scurries off the test track. The car is ready for its last run, a sacrifice that will be everything but futile. The whirr of the engine ends just seconds later in a mighty crash… The car went from 65 km/h to standstill over a distance of 50 centimetres.”
“During the design phase, close to a hundred ZOEs will have undergone all types of crash test (front, side and rear impact, pedestrian impact, etc.).”
Other tests cover watertightness, fording, road cycle simulation and endurance for the body. There is also a range of tests for the battery alone, including temperature, chemical attack, fire, electrical overload and impact.
Next Green Car Awards
On 4 July it was announced that the Zoe had received two awards in the Next Green Car Awards 2012. Next Green Car made awards across eight vehicle categories including the ‘Next Generation’ Award, which includes new technology models close to market launch. An overall winner is also awarded the title of Next Green Car ‘Gold Award’ 2012. The nine winners were selected from shortlists of 26 of the UK’s greenest new cars of 2012/13, all selected for their environmental Green Car Rating (GCR), level of innovation, value, drive experience and design.
Zoe won the award for the Supermini 2012 category, and also the overall Gold Award 2012. Dr Ben Lane, Managing Editor of Next Green Car, stated:
“The 2012 winners reflect two key elements underlying current green car development: downsizing and electrification. Three of the winners are brand new models and follow the design philosophy of ‘small is beautiful’. Over half of the winners also incorporate electric drive-trains, either as pure electric cars, plug-in hybrids or with start-stop.
“Indeed, the Next Green Car Gold Award 2012 goes to the highly innovative Renault ZOE Z.E. which for the first time offers a zero-emission all-electric supermini to the UK car buyer.”
In receiving the Gold Award 2012, Andy Heiron, Head of Electric Vehicle Programme, Renault UK said:
“We’re delighted that ZOE has collected not just one, but two awards from Next Green Car, several months before it even launches in the UK; especially the prestigious Next Green Car Gold Award.
“With an affordable price tag, stylish design and great technology including six world premieres such as its innovative Chameleon charger with fast charge capability and the R-Link internet connected integrated touch-screen tablet, we have very high hopes for the fourth model in our electric vehicle range.”
LG Chem Batteries
On 6 July Motor Nature reported that the Zoe would not be getting batteries from the planned battery production facility at Flins. Instead, it would be supplied directly by the South Korean company LG Chem.
Later in the month Renault reaffirmed the partnership with LG, and stated that Zoe (and also Twizy) batteries would be made by LG. Also, that it remained keen to build a dedicated battery factory in France with LG, but that its location was under review.
Zoe Show at L’Atelier Renault
A ‘ZOE RE-VOLUTION’ show opened at L’Atelier Renault in Paris on 14 July, running until 21 October, ‘dedicated to bringing visitors an original electric-technology experience with a show dedicated 100% to ZOE, the latest arrival in Renault’s range of full-electric vehicles’. It was described by Renault as follows:
“The new all-ZOE show presents Renault’s 100% electric city car in an atmosphere inspired by purity and passion. Visitors get to find out all about electric technology.
“L’Atelier Renault is displaying a life-sized ZOE split down the middle that shows how easy the car is to charge, which plugs into all types of charging stations. And for even more in-depth knowledge of ZOE and electric cars, received ideas about electric mobility are dispelled via wall-mounted screens in a continuous loop.
“A ‘Take-Care’ space has been set up to give visitors an idea of the sensory experience on-board ZOE, reproducing lighting, odours and even the wind blowing through their hair, courtesy of a wall covered floor to ceiling with the latest Dyson fans!
“In addition, visitors can be the first to experience the 100% electric experience thanks to a special area where they can reserve their ZOE. Twizy is also still on show at L’Atelier Renault, in a lounge space echoing the colors and electronic ambience of Twizy ambassadors Cathy and David Guetta.”
Renault announced on 20 July that, along with Paris Région Lab, it had picked five start-up companies to develop R-Link projects in a Connected Mobility and Services ‘incubator’ set up by the two partners. This followed a call for bids at the start of the year to select innovative start-ups working in connected services.
“Looking to open up to new technological innovations in connected mobility, Renault has joined forces with Paris Région Lab to select partner start-ups and develop working relationships as part of an approach based on dialogue, innovation and openness. The two partners have chosen five young companies, Apila, SoCloz, MobiquiThings, I-Dispo and Telepark, which have set up shop in a dedicated space at the Paris Innovation Masséna ‘incubator’ in the 13tharrondissement in Paris. The partnership’s initial achievement is a set of new connected mobility services available on R-Link (to feature notably on New Clio and ZOE) based on the development of special apps.”
The five companies/applications are:
Apila – a multi-platform, community-based mobile app used to exchange street parking spaces in real time.
MobiquiThings – a mobile operator that works with manufacturers in all sectors (automotive and transport, logistics, energy, water, health, safety, etc.) by operating fleets of communicating machines. The company supplies its own, branded SIM 2G (GSM) and 3G cards and the corresponding subscriptions, contracts and connections.
SoCloz – a ‘pre-shopping assistant’ that helps web users find products and the real-life stores that sell them. Users get dedicated store information (stock, prices and special deals, plus opening hours, distances and so on) updated several times per day.
I-Dispo – an original virtual concierge that provides assistance in doing simple tasks such as organizing an appointment with a local professional, comparing product and service prices and getting estimates from service providers.
Telepark – an electronic automation and parking management solution for town councils and motorists. More specifically, it helps motorists pay for parking instantly from their mobile device and brings them a range of complementary services such as reminders on parking time limits, remote reminders/deactivation, and consumption records.
“A Renault spokeswoman said the decision to push back the launch of the ZOE to 2013 from the last quarter of this year was taken because of software bugs in the car’s R-Link on-board multimedia system. She couldn’t say when the commercial launch is now expected to take place. ‘We need more time to carry out tests,’ she said.”
However, later that day, another report from WSJ said that Renault still planned to launch Zoe by the end of the year, contradicting the earlier statement:
“A spokeswoman for the French auto maker blamed ‘confusion’ over the timing of the launch when she told Dow Jones Newswires earlier Wednesday that the commercial launch of the car had been pushed back…”
“In response to the rumours surrounding the launch of ZOE, Renault has confirmed that the vehicle will be launched at the end of 2012 and that the first orders will be taken on the closing of the Paris Motor Show.”
On 1 June the Zoe set a new world record for the longest distance travelled in 24 hours by a production electric car. Zoe completed 363 laps of the Aubevoye speed ring in Normandy, a distance of 1,618 km, beating the former record of 1,280 km by 25%.
Two Renault Zoe vehicles set out on the speed ring at the Aubevoye technical centre (CTA) in Normandy. Fifteen drivers from Aubevoye, Cléon, Sandouville, Flins, Douai and Grand Couronne took turns at the wheel, driving and charging as necessary. Twenty-four hours later, the two Zoe vehicles crossed the finishing line, with mileage of 1,618 km and 1,506 km respectively.
“Using its Caméléon charger ZOE was able to be fast-charged at 43 kW, regaining 80% of battery capacity in under thirty minutes. This challenge was also made possible by the best-in-class NEDC range of 210 km (between 100 and 150 km in real conditions, depending on conditions of use). Overall, the finalist ZOE was fast-charged 18 times in 24 hours.”
Presumably the charging was arranged for maximum range efficiency, so that minimum time was spent charging and maximum time driving; therefore the cars would not have been charged to 100% each time (since the last 10-20% takes a disproportionately long time). Assuming the finalist Zoe started fully charged, it used at most 19 full charges to achieve its range of 1,618km, i.e. it went more than 85km on each charge. That is a significant achievement where each charge is less than the maximum possible.
On 8 June Renault published the first instalment of its ‘ZOE Confidential’ blog, an interview with Jean Semeriva, the designer of the Zoe exterior.
Some interesting quotes from the article:
“The main idea is that ZOE doesn’t have corners, and when the movement suggested by a line comes to an end, it is replaced by another.”
“In absolute terms we didn’t have a lot of constraints stemming from the fact that ZOE is an electric car or city car. We had to raise the seats slightly – and the roof, too – so we could place the battery under the floor. But we worked hand in hand with engineers to minimise this kind of impact. Electric motors also take up a little less place than regular engines, which played a role in the overall design. We really aimed for simplicity.”
On 10 June two different versions of the Zoe featured in a photoshoot on AutoNewsWorld.com. As well as providing artistic views of the exterior, there are good, clear photographs of the interior.
WhatCar Reader Review
In May WhatCar invited its readers to volunteer to review the Zoe, and on 11 June published a Reader Review video. Overall the reviewers seem very happy with what they saw.
Goodwood Festival of Speed
To complete a busy month, Zoe had its first showing to the British public at the Goodwood Festival of Speed from 29 June to 1 July. For 2012 Renault was back as sponsor and showed off a number of key vehicles, including the 1935 Viva Grand Sport, the Alpine A110, Megane R.S. and Clio R.S. The Zoe was displayed on a stand along with an electric Renault 5 from 1974.
I visited the EcoVelocity Motor Show on 13 May to try out some hybrid and electric cars first hand. This ‘Green Motor Show’ covers all low carbon cars, from economical petrol cars through hybrids to full electric cars:
“The low carbon market is developing and improving at a fantastic rate and we are very excited to be supporting the shift towards a brighter, cleaner motoring future. With new vehicle technologies emerging rapidly, EcoVelocity is the ideal event to discover and sample many of them. We also hope you’ll discover the many benefits and pleasures of owning a low carbon vehicle including substantial grants, road tax and congestion charge exemption to name a few, as well as reducing your environmental impact.”
To me there were two disappointments to the show. Firstly it was small, and I imagine it only had as many visitors as it did by being run alongside the much larger Grand Designs Live show. Secondly, there was no Renault stand, though I did manage to see a Kangoo electric van on the EDF stand, and a Twizy quadricycle in the Grand Designs hall. Nonetheless, it was very useful to get to see so many EVs and hybrids together in one place, and have the opportunity to test drive a selection of them.
This event was the first time I saw a number of electric cars and plug-in hybrids ‘in the flesh’. There was a ‘supercar’ stand near the entrance that featured a Tesla Roadster EV, a Delta Motorsport E4 Coupe EV, a Lightning GT EV and a Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid.
Further in there were dedicated stands as follows:
Citroën, including the C-Zero EV (a rebadged Mitsubishi i-MIEV)
Vauxhall, including the Ampera plug-in hybrid (a rebadged Chevrolet Volt) and a RAKe quadricycle
Nissan, showcasing the LEAF EV
Chevrolet, including the Volt plug-in hybrid
Mia, with a selection of Mia EVs
EDF Energy, including a Renault Kangoo Z.E. electric van and a Peugeot iOn EV (a rebadged Mitsubishi i-MIEV).
Peugeot, including the 508 – the first example of a hybrid diesel.
There were also some smaller supplier stands that featured EVs (including a Mitsubishi i-MIEV, another Tesla Roadster and another Nissan LEAF).
The best thing about this event was that it included a dedicated track for test driving the various vehicles being shown – in fact, a small under cover track leading to a long road circuit around Docklands. Although test drives were intended to be booked in advance I managed to get some through a combination of arriving early, and revisiting stands regularly checking for ‘no shows’. My first drive was in a Nissan LEAF EV and it was very enjoyable. It was my first drive in any EV, so I was concerned it might turn out to be a disappointment but it was as smooth, quiet and ‘high-tech’ as I had hoped.
Next I drove the Vauxhall Ampera plug-in hybrid. I must say I was very impressed with it – just getting into the driver’s seat gave a feeling of climbing into ‘Starship Enterprise’. Personally I’m keen on getting a fully electric car, but I can certainly see the temptation of an Ampera or Volt. It was very smooth and effortless to drive, certainly an experience apart from an ordinary petrol car.
Finally I got to drive a Peugeot 508 diesel hybrid. It was impressive, particularly the smoothness of the transition from electric to diesel power, but having experienced the ‘EV’ experience of a plug-in I have no interest in ‘old fashioned’ soft hybrids, even though I can appreciated the cleverness of the technology.
To conclude the day I attended presentations by Robert Llewellyn (well known for his EV advocacy, and Fully Charged podcasts) and Andy Heiron (Head of Electric Vehicle Programme – Renault UK).
I have put a full set of photographs of the day online on Flickr.
On 11 May Automotive News Europe gave details of an interview conducted with Thierry Koskas, Renault’s EV Project Director where it was said that Renault expects the Zoe to far outsell the Nissan LEAF (the current world’s best-selling EV) in Europe. With an annual production capacity for the Zoe of 150,000 units, the subcompact would be the volume model among Renault’s four-model EV range, which includes the Fluence large sedan, Kangoo car-derived van and scooter-style Twizy.
Koskas told Automotive News Europe:
“The Zoe is the first electric car in Europe that will address the needs of the mass-consumer market.
“The Zoe is a next-generation car. It is launching two years later than the Leaf. The Zoe will benefit from technologies that the Leaf does not have, such as a braking energy-recovery system, a heat pump, and a special series of energy efficient tires.”