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Renault Zoe EV pushed back to 2014

Late arrival: Renault's crucial Zoe EV has been delayed as the French car-maker readies it for an impending European launch.

Funky new electric city car from Renault still almost two years away from Oz

Renault logo27 Sep 2012

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in PARIS

STRONG international demand for Renault’s highly anticipated Zoe electric city car is likely to delay its introduction until mid-2014.

Billed as the world’s first affordable mainstream EV, the Holden Barina-sized five-seater hatch made its global debut at the Geneva motor in March and will soon be launched in Europe after undergoing final-phase testing in Australia and other countries in recent months.

Right-hand-drive production was scheduled to commence in the second half of 2013, paving the way for shipments to Australia either late next year or early in 2014.

Speaking to GoAuto on the eve of the Paris motor show this week, Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar said a local announced on Zoe was expected soon, but indicated that the vehicle might not arrive here until around mid-2014.

“Our chances of getting the Zoe are very good,” said Mr Hocevar, adding that the company had “strong support” from Renault’s Asia-Pacific headquarters.

“We hope we can launch it within a realistic timeframe of the global rollout.”

35 center imageFrom top: Renault Australia's Justin Hocevar Renault Fluence ZE Zoe.

While no pricing has been announced for Australia, the Zoe is expected to start from the low-$30,000 region, putting the electric ‘supermini’ within reach of buyers who might otherwise consider a high-spec European light car like a highly specified Volkswagen Polo TDI.

The Zoe will be Renault’s second EV after the Fluence ZE, which is earmarked to begin sales Down Under from December.

Fulfilling demand in Europe is Renault’s priority at the moment, with most markets receiving the Zoe in the first half of 2013.

The entry-level Zoe Life in France is available for B-segment hatch diesel money at €13,700 ($A17,000), but that is only after a €7000 ($A8690) government subsidy is included. The up-spec Zen and Intense models each begin at €15,500 ($A19,240) post-incentive.

Although these figures do not include the monthly battery rental charge of €79 ($A98), Renault says that a Zoe that exceeds 9000km annually will be cheaper to run in France – with the government incentives included – than an equivalently sized and priced diesel.

Right now Renault will not divulge what the Zoe’s lithium-ion battery pack is likely to cost to rent each month in Australia, but speculation suggests that it will easily eclipse the $100 mark.

Despite the lack of any meaningful government incentives for EVs, Mr Hocevar is confident the Zoe would do well in Australia.

“I think it is very well suited to Australia,” he said.

“The electric range is at a level that people would accept. And from what we understand, it will be the most affordable mass-produced vehicle on the market.

“Of course, if the Australian government put in incentives for EVs, then it would be an even more affordable proposition for Australia.

Renault is still hopeful for consumer assistance in the form of reduced taxes, cheaper registration and inner-city parking assistance for EVs.

“We’ll keep pushing for it,” Mr Hocevar said.

Full production of the B10-series Zoe commences in December at the Paris plant of Flins just outside of Paris, and will be built alongside the X98-series Clio IV.

However, save for a small number of interchangeable parts such as the media interface, very few parts are shared with Renault’s fourth-generation B-segment hatch, which is due in Australia in the second half of 2013.

While the latter is built on the Renault-Nissan Alliance V-platform that underpins a host of recent small vehicles from both companies such as the latest K13-series Micra, the Zoe’s chassis is a heavily modified version of the existing Renault Modus, which is a development of the outgoing Clio structure, dating back to 2004.

The Zoe was created to be an appealing mainstream car rather than polarising, futuristic EV.

To that end, while some airflow enhancers have been applied, such as with the use of a flush underbody as well as specific diffusers front and rear, the Zoe does boast an ultra-low aerodynamic silhouette.

Only the lozenge-style white-and-blue tail-lights and illuminated ‘ZE’ logo (positioned beneath the sideways-opening Renault badge/flap up front) that pulsates during charging give the EV game away.

Otherwise this is a five-door hatchback with a slightly higher roofline than a Clio, with a regular 2+3 seating arrangement and a competitive 338-litre boot volume.

Renault says research from the Geneva motor show revealed that many interested potential B-segment hatch buyers did not even realise that the Zoe was an EV, and were surprised to learn that it did not offer an internal combustion engine option at all.

Also in the name of ‘normalisation’ as well as cost benefits, Renault resisted the call of ultra-lightweight steels and polymers for the bodywork, resulting in an unexceptional kerb weight of 1468kg – which is almost 90kg more than the larger Volkswagen Golf 103TDI diesel.

The French company reduced costs in some ingenious ways, such as with the design of unique ‘tombstone’-style front seatbacks that lack an adjustable head restraint (though the rear outboard positions have them).

There is no division in the rear backrest for a split/fold arrangement – although that is understood to be coming later – and a sideways-opening ‘map’ pocket has been stitched within the back of the front passenger-seat, and is designed to be more ergonomically accessible for the driver.

On the other hand, the Zoe boasts more than 60 patents, including a ‘Chameleon charger’ that can handle a variety of charge power levels, reducing complexity and cost from an infrastructure point of view.

Zoe is part of Renault’s €4 billion ($A4.97 billion) investment in zero emissions technology as it strives to seize the mantle as the world’s leading EV provider.

Driving the front wheels via a Continental synchronous electric motor and ‘reducer’ gear transmission is an LG Chem-sourced 22kWh lithium-ion battery, positioned low and flat beneath the floor, for an NEDC-standard range of 210km and an artificially limited top speed of 135km/h.

Providing 68kW of power and 220Nm of torque, the 0-50km/h sprint time takes just four seconds, while doubling that velocity requires another nine seconds.

It takes up to nine hours to recharge a Zoe from depletion using a 16-amp single-phase wall box (or just 30 minutes from an industrial-strength 63-amp three-phase system).

Range-extending features include unique low-resistance Michelin Energy EV tyres on the base Life model, and a new regenerative braking system that saves energy while applying pedal pressure as well as during off-throttle coasting.

Also included is a heat-pump climate-control system that acts like a reverse-cycle air-conditioning unit and uses a fraction of the energy normally required to warm and cool the cabin.

Renault is confident the Zoe will become the world’s best-selling electric vehicle within the next three years.

“We believe the Zoe’s core market will be as a second car for city dwellers,” a Renault spokesman said.

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