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Frankfurt show: Renault’s EV future comes to light

Battery switch: Rather than charge the battery of the Renault Fluence EV, the 'Quickdrop' battery is changed every time you need a top up.

Renault unveils a quartet of full-electric concepts ahead of 2011 launch

Renault logo17 Sep 2009

By TERRY MARTIN

THE electric car future of French manufacturer Renault was laid out for the world to see at the Frankfurt motor show this week, with four close-to-production ZE (zero emissions) concepts previewing its first wave of electric vehicles to be released in 2011.

Running alongside alliance partner Nissan’s EV program, which includes the forthcoming Leaf EV and a massive investment from infrastructure provider Better Place, Renault has presented ZE versions of its forthcoming Fluence small sedan, the Kangoo compact van and two small urban vehicles dubbed Zoe and Twizy.

In an announcement timed to coincide with the Frankfurt reveal, Renault and Better Place have now committed to a volume of 100,000 Fluence ZEs for release in Israel and Denmark by 2016, with the first customer ‘subscriptions’ commencing in the first half of 2011.

Renault president and CEO Carlos Ghosn also said in Frankfurt that the Fluence ZE, which will be the first of the French marque’s forthcoming passenger EVs, would be launched in more than 20 countries worldwide in 2011, giving Renault “a two-year lead over the competition”.

Australia is not, however, expected to be among this first wave, with the first Better Place-supported Renault EVs not due until at least 2012.

35 center imageFrom top: Kangoo ZE, Zoe ZE and Twizy ZE concepts.

Based on the Megane sedan and built in collaboration with South Korean partner Samsung, the Fluence ZE is being touted as the world’s first mass-market zero-emissions vehicle with a switchable battery – one of the key features of the Better Place network, which uses ‘Quickdrop’ battery swap stations as a convenient alternative to recharging points.

According to Renault, the Fluence ZE can be recharged from a conventional household outlet in four to eight hours, with a rapid charge (to 80 per cent capacity) from specialist points achieved in just 20 minutes. A battery swap is claimed to take less than five minutes.

To come with a four-year/120,000km warranty in Israel, the Fluence EV offers a range of up to 160km. While detailed drivetrain information is still to be divulged, the four-door sedan offers a range of up to 160km and uses the same 70kW/226Nm electric motor and lithium-ion battery combination as already seen in the Kangoo ZE.

The Fluence ZE has a 1600kg kerb weight, uses low-rolling-resistance Michelin tyres (175/55-section 21-inchers on the Frankfurt show car) and rests on a 2696mm wheelbase. It measures 4892mm in length, 1882mm in width and 1520mm in height.

Onboard power-enhancing/saving measures include photovoltaic cells, headlights with electroluminescent diodes, and LEDs in the both the front and rear light clusters.

A range of airflow-optimising design features also are apparent, such as an enclosed underside (incorporating a rear diffuser), spiral-form wheel rims and streamlined doorhandles and wing mirrors, the latter with integrated rearward facing cameras.

Unveiled in Be Bop mini-MPV form four months ago at Renault’s annual shareholder meeting in Paris, the electric Kangoo light-commercial van will be released in 2011, around the same time as the Fluence ZE.

Painted in pearlescent white, the ultra-compact Twizy ZE is an open-bodied two-seater (1+1) city car with a 15kW/70Nm electric motor that Renault claims enables acceleration akin to a 125cc motorbike. Top speed is 75km/h and maximum range 100km.

The 420kg Twizy has a footprint similar to a scooter – it rests on a 1695mm wheelbase and measures 2303mm long, 1132mm wide and 2303mm long – and offers a super-tight 3m turning circle.

The rear seat is attached the roof of the vehicle, allowing the lower part of the seat to pivot for convenient access from the roadside. The back seat is also height adjustable, with the cushion able to be turned over to become a child booster cushion. The latter method frees up an additional load volume of 10 litres, extending from the standard 50 litres and complementing the three litres on offer from cubbies on either side of the steering wheel.

Although Mr Ghosn has confirmed the Zoe EV will be the last of the Frankfurt quartet to reach the road – around mid-2012 – the compact four-seater looks to have mass-market appeal and will also feature the same electric drivetrain as the Fluence and Kangoo.

It has a number of features that are all but certain to be confined to the motor show annals, such as front scissor and rear butterfly doors, and contains pure flights of fancy such as a climate-control system co-developed with cosmetics giant L’Oreal with ‘hydrating’, ‘detox’ and ‘active scent’ functions.

Yes, small dash-mounted vaporisers spray an unspecified “exclusive active” substance to rehydrate the skin, a toxicity sensor monitors air quality and regulates the air vents accordingly, while an electric system exhales essential oils suited to the mood of the moment – “something mellow for a relaxing drive home” or a more pungent smell to “stimulate concentration when driving at night”.

Other features of interest include 21-inch alloy wheels at each corner, a retractable rear spoiler, a protective membrane roof coating, a light protective polyurethane gel coating over the headlights, and side air intakes designed to channel airflow toward the lithium-ion batteries.

The Zoe is perched on a 2605mm wheelbase and extends 4100mm in overall length, 1840mm in width and 1516mm in height. This size and the mechanical details are the ones to watch as the Zoe draws closer to production.

“The electric vehicle is the breakthrough solution enabling sustainable mobility for all,” the company said this week, having not followed its compatriot Peugeot in developing a hybrid powertrain. “Renault is aiming for a leadership position in the market for vehicles producing zero emissions in use.

“The four show cars presented at Frankfurt previews the electric vehicle range, the launch of which will begin in 2011 with three models: a compact van for fleets and business customers, a family car, and a small city car.

“These will be followed in 2012 by a five-seater compact car measuring around four metres long. The EV line-up will be extended after 2012 to cover all vehicle segments and meet a range of customer needs.”

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