Towards the end of 2009, zero-emission electric cars were little more than concept cars. At that year’s Frankfurt motor show Renault displayed four electric prototypes – the Fluence, Z.E sedan, the Kangoo Z.E van, the Twizy tandem two-seater and the ZOE subcompact… but that’s all they were: ideas. Electric cars were an utopian dream, something for the sci-fi magazines.
What a difference five years makes. Today electric cars are a reality. Manufacturers, led by Alliance partners Renault and Nissan, have a growing number of pure electric vehicles on sale – indeed, the trail-blazing Nissan LEAF is the world’s bestselling EV.
Major cities across the globe all have extensive recharging posts in place, and extended fast charging networks now link countries. Electric bikes and scooters are readily available and Renault is behind a global single-seat motor racing championship purely for electric vehicles – Formula E.
Cities and towns in France – 18 in all, including Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux – have car-sharing programmes, called Autolib, based around electric vehicles. EVs have caught on in London, too, where the electric Nissan e-NV200 has been developed into an iconic black cab and is due to start taking fares next year.
So what’s going to happen between now and 2020? There can be no doubt that charging networks will continue to expand and sales of EVs will rise and rise. And, who knows, electric vehicles might no longer need humans behind the wheels. Autonomous cars might be at the concept stage at the moment… but as we have seen, a great deal can happen in five years.
The headlights in a Renault ZOE are not particularly powerful at the best of times, but recently it became clear that my car was giving out so little light that it must have a blown headlamp. Having often changed the bulbs in other cars I decided to take this job on myself, despite finding that changing the bulb in my wife’s Ford Focus was something of a trial.
I dived into the Owner’s Manual (see Figure 1) to confirm the type required – “Bulb Type: H7, use anti U.V. 55W bulbs so as not to damage the plastic on the headlight” – and picked one up from the local Halfords.
The process of changing the bulb (the left-hand one) was surprisingly easy:
1. Pull off the rubber cover. See Figure 2 – the bulb is located in the housing just below the big white sticker.
2. Reach into the housing and grasp the headlamp assembly – it’s pretty fiddly, particularly if you have large hands – see Figure 3.
3. Twist the headlamp assembly anti-clockwise about 20 degrees. This is the trickiest bit as it’s both hard to hold and see. I jiggled it and eventually it turned enough to come out.
4. Pull out the bulb from its holder, and replace. Again this is a bit tricky as the bulb can be seated very firmly, just pull and jiggle to get it out. See Figure 4.
5. Repeat sequence in reverse, but try not to touch the glass of the new bulb.
That’s it – job done, and it was much easier and quicker than many other cars (including the Ford Focus!).
A new ownership package for two of Renault’s most popular electric vehicles has been welcomed by the leasing industry.
It will now offer customers in the UK the chance to buy the Kangoo ZE and Zoe with a battery; previously the only option was to lease the power source separately.
It’s a shift in policy that has won the support of some of the country’s biggest leasing companies, which struggled to forecast accurate residual values for the vehicles.
In fact, Zenith Leasedrive simply chose not to include the Kangoo ZE and Zoe in its EV line-up at all, but told Fleet News that both vehicles will now be offered to customers.
Ian Hughes, commercial director at Zenith Leasedrive, said:
“We are delighted with the change of direction by Renault in its electric vehicle strategy.
“It was particularly difficult to forecast an accurate residual value in circumstances when a vehicle is bought but the battery hired – a bit like trying to sell a car without an engine.”
The policy required Alphabet to create a complicated “workaround”, according to its head of consultancy services, Jon Burdekin. He said:
“This move from Renault removes the complication. It will also remove any potential confusion in the market as to whether the battery is included in the quote or not. By making things easier to understand, Renault brings itself in line with other manufacturers in an area which it was previously behind on.”
In October I managed, for the first time ever, to drive 300 miles one day in my Renault ZOE. I like to think that puts me in the ‘elite club’ of long distance electric car drivers!
Of course, I’m not the first ZOE owner to join – at least two other members of the MyRenaultZOE forum (Timbo and Surya) beat me to it. Nonetheless, I consider it an important personal achievement, more significant than my previous record of 360 miles in a weekend.
It’s not just that it was a good distance but that it was actually done on a business trip. With an electric car I travelled half the length of the country, arrived on time for a series of business meetings beginning at 1030, and drove back home afterward. All without drama – though undoubtedly with a debt of gratitude to the excellent rapid-charging infrastructure we have in England.
Retired accountant Eddie Dewson knows how to crunch numbers and make them add up, which is why he was first attracted to the Renault ZOE. A £5000 Plug-IN Car Grant from the government means the ZOE is more affordable than many of its petrol- and diesel-powered rivals, so the cost of the ZOE was already appealing to Eddie.
When Eddie then looked at the standard specification of the ZOE Dynamique Intens, it didn’t take a calculator to work out how much better kitted out the Renault is next to its rivals for the same price. He notes: ‘The ZOE has a very high spec, which includes a reversing camera and air conditioning that is excellent thanks to the powerful fan – something you need for driving in and around London.’
However, 71-year old Eddie isn’t so easily swayed by the equipment list and wasn’t a senior accountant for a global company without looking at all of the facts and figures before making his decision.
‘I was really intrigued by the possibility of charging the ZOE at home,’ says Eddie. ‘We’re lucky to have a driveway and off-street parking at home in Reigate, so having the Wallbox fitted for free made complete sense. When you look at the cost of charging the ZOE overnight with off-peak electricity, it really starts to make a big difference to running costs.’
This is a big consideration for Eddie and his wife Marie. As very active and involved grandparents, they spend a lot of time driving into London to see their kids and many of their 10 grandchildren. Initial worries about the range of an electric car were soon dismissed by Eddie as he started to drive the ZOE and he found the range on a full charge was more than enough to drive into and around London and then back home on a single charge.
A shot of the Renault ZOE charging in front of houseA shot of the Renault ZOE charging in front of house
Eddie says: ‘Charging the ZOE couldn’t be simpler at home. Just plug in the socket and the car does the rest. In the morning, it’s ready to go and it’s great being able to step into a car that’s already at the right temperature to cope with the weather, hot or cold, thanks to the pre-conditioning offered with the ZOE.
‘I also found the range wasn’t affected much by using the air conditioning, so trips into London are easy. If I do need to top up the charge, there are loads of charging points all over London and the Renault’s R-Link made it easy to find them.’
As a keen driver, Eddie enjoyed the ZOE’s zesty performance and comments: ‘There’s surprisingly strong acceleration off the mark and the Renault is happy to cruise on the motorway too. You certainly don’t notice any lack of an engine other than how quiet the ZOE is compared to other cars. Even using the performance, though, the battery doesn’t run down and with the regenerative braking that gets a lot of use in London traffic it’s easy to maintain the range of the car. It’s also fun to drive the ZOE in any kind of conditions and on any road, so it just works as a great car regardless of what sort of power it uses.’
With the performance to Eddie’s liking, how does it fair with his grandchildren? ‘They loved it,’ smiles Eddie. ‘Not just because it’s different but because it looks good and there’s plenty of space in the back seats and boot. It’s easy to fit three kids in the back seat safely, which is perfect for taking the grandchildren out.’
Eddie also notes the ZOE’s doors open far wider than most superminis’ and says: ‘The doors are a generous size and give a large opening. This is important for me as I have restricted movement in one knee, so it’s great to be able to get in and out of the ZOE so easily.’
Along with the practical side of the ZOE, Eddie returns his accountant’s mind to the financial element: ‘When you factor in the ZOE can travel into the Congestion Zone for free, it makes a big difference to the running costs.’
Compare the ZOE to a Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI BlueMotion five-door, which is a car any accountant would consider a solid financial bet, the ZOE soon emerges as the winner. Using the HonestJohn Fuel Calculator for Eddie’s 10,000-mile per year driving, we can see the more expensive Polo would cost more than £2000 per year more than the ZOE with the cost of paying the Congestion Charge included. Even without this cost, it would take the Polo 18 months just recoup its higher list price next to the ZOE’s.
Those are just the sort of figures to make any accountant smile, but what really impressed Eddie the most was the overall ability of the ZOE. When it comes to the crunch, the Renault ZOE adds up.