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Twizy revels in RS know-how

Twizy stick: Renault has revealed that the Twizy quadricycle received substantial chassis developments courtesy of Renaultsport.

Renaultsport-developed chassis just one of Twizy city car’s many brilliant solutions

Renault logo17 Apr 2012

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

RENAULT has revealed that the new Twizy quadricycle, launched last month in Europe, spent two and a half years in chassis development at Renault Sport Technologies – home of the Renaultsport hot hatches.

Project manager Christophe Ambroggi said that one of the RST team’s biggest challenges was achieving a balance between agility and safety in a vehicle not fitted with ABS brakes, electronic stability control or any other driver aids.

“The driver had to feel the limit of the car on wet and dry roads at all times,” he told GoAuto in Paris last week, adding that the RST engineers were charged with “making it fun with the limited power on offer”.

An uncommonly low centre of gravity as a result of the 100kg lithium-ion battery pack being placed as low as possible, along with just 120mm of ground clearance and a body that weighs only about 450kg, aided RST’s quest in creating a dynamically enjoyable and secure vehicle.

With the Twizy priced in France from €6900 ($A8854 – but not including a $A64-plus monthly rental battery fee), it was decided from the outset that ABS would be too costly in such a price-sensitive segment.

Nevertheless, Mr Ambroggi said ABS may be added as an option at a later date if there is sufficient call for it.

35 center imageAccording to product planning manager Yvan Capelle, the Twizy originally came about because Renault wanted a slice of the burgeoning three-wheeled scooter and motorcycle market in Europe, but did not want to create a clone of the popular Piaggio MP3.

Twizy was created with four major cities in mind – Paris, Rome, London and Amsterdam.

“We used the MP3 125cc to 500cc as a benchmark, but we didn’t want to copy this idea,” said Mr Capelle, adding that offering a safer urban runabout than a motorbike would fill a gap in the market, appealing particularly to parents of teenagers who would otherwise choose a scooter.

“The idea is to convince car users as well as buyers of three-wheelers that our vehicle has more safety, is a tool that is more convenient to drive, and is efficient, useful and fun to use in the city.

“Twizy is aimed at people in big cities with logistics issues … people who generally only have two mobility choices: public transport and scooters.

“Our research found people thought public transport was not reliable enough at night and scooters are dangerous.

“Twizy builds on three-wheeler scooter manoeuvrability and then adds safety.” Interestingly, while Renault’s product planners did not initially intend to create an electric vehicle out of the Twizy, the fact that its EV project was also gathering pace at the same time meant that the two separate developments converged naturally.

“Simultaneously, the EV project was happening, so we realised that (a battery EV) would help with the Twizy’s desired narrowness and stability,” Mr Capelle said.

“Anyway, the Twizy concept would have been considered weak without EV.” In order to communicate the electric drivetrain on board to other road users, Twizy designer Eric Dianert originally had the headlights and grille forming a positive-charge ‘plus sign’ up front, while the tail-lights were placed high up and in a horizontal strip to denote a ‘negative’ charge sign.

Renault management rejected the nose as “too weird” but retained the rear.

The decision to enter mass production with the ‘X09’ project was made only in 2009, requiring one of the speediest new-vehicle gestations in the company’s history.

Helping Renault achieve its 2012 deadline was a “simple and cheap” mantra.

One of the biggest headaches during this time, Mr Capelle admitted, was designing everything in the cabin to operate in an ‘open’ environment, since the Twizy only offers half-doors with no side windows.

Not fitting side windows was a crucial early decision because it meant the cabin did not require heating, air-conditioning or a demisting system.

This would also have adversely impacted weight and slashed the 100km range potential because of the extra electricity needed to run these items, which in turn would have required a larger electric motor and battery, adding even more weight.

Optional ‘Gullwing’ doors have no crash or structural properties – but do swing open on a dashboard-mounted hydraulic hinge to very entertaining effect.

Smoked Perspex lower door sections came about from research showing that women did not wanting their legs or carry-on items exposed to either the elements or prying eyes.

Mr Capelle said he had to rally his team to keep thinking differently but also economically in order to identify such potential problems before customers did.

Other unexpected issues needing special attention included preventing electrical circuit failure from sitting in the rain, stopping water spraying from the windscreen onto the driver’s face at speed and where to fit the sunvisor since there is insufficient space in the traditional place just above the header rail.

Mr Capelle said there was much internal wrangling over the last problem, since the alternative blue-tint strip on the upper-windscreen edge would inhibit vision for taller drivers. In the end, they agreed that wearing sunglasses is the only effective solution.

To keep the Spanish-built Twizy fresh and customers keen, Renault is planning special editions and minor regular updates on an annual basis, starting with a larger, lockable shopping ‘box’ that sits behind the driver in place of the optional zipper bag accessory currently offered.

“We are continuously working on improving the Twizy, and keeping the price down while coming up with simple solutions is one the biggest challenges,” said Mr Capelle.

While Renault is the first to offer this sort of quadricycle, it will not be the last, with Opel, Volkswagen, Audi, Suzuki and Daihatsu flagging similar concepts in recent years.

The mid-range model – the Twizy Urban 80 that is expected to account for about 85 per cent of sales – has a top speed of 81km/h in order for it to be legally driven on Switzerland’s motorways.

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