If you’re a regular reader, you will have seen my recent review on the Nissan Leaf, well now Renault are joining the electric vehicle market with their Fluence ZE (Zero Emissions). I was invited to Carton House for an exclusive preview of the first production ready prototypes of their saloon and to test drive it. Renault are about to launch a huge assault into the electric vehicle market and with the Fluence ZE. I think they could be about to make EV ownership a lot more accessible than other manufacturers have so far managed.
Renault have done a very clever thing with the Fluence ZE by making it look virtually identical to the standard Fluence. In fact it looks just like any usual family saloon, and I think this in a way will help encourage people to consider owning one. Although current EV purchasers are what the marketeers call ‘early adoptors’ and are quite proud to have something different, for these cars to become mainstream they need to appeal to a much wider audience, so the simpler they appear the better.
The car that I was driving was still a prototype but the engineer that accompanied me on the drive was keen to state that they were virtually identical to how the production car would be. The only visual difference being the low drag alloy wheels and the charing socket covers of which there are one on each front wing. Sitting in and it definitely feels normal, more normal in fact than the Nissan Leaf’s interior was. Aside from the dials its exactly as you’d expect a standard car to feel, no fancy mood lighting or futuristic dash. Selecting D on the automatic box and off we go, albeit it rather silently. At city speeds the car feels super smooth and glides nicely over the speed ramps as I approach the main roads. Pulling out and give it some, er, volts, and you get that instant hit of torque that EV’s generate. Power-wise it produces a modest 95hp and 226Nm of that lovely torque. Once cruising I did find that there was a more audible whirr from the electric motors compared with other cars I’ve tested, but it is still very quiet inside the car. Low resistance tyres also help quell any road noise that could be transmitted through the cabin. As I lift off the throttle there is a regular amount or engine braking whilst I spot that the dial indicates that it is recovering charge. When you apply the brakes the system also recovers more energy again in the boot mounted battery. Its total range when fully charged is 185km. For car rental services, click here for info here!
The drive is as one would expect, but the real trick up Renault’s sleeve will be how it prices the Fluence ZE. I must admit I was surprised to see that it will retail €21,260 (after you claim your €5,000 government grant) – that’s almost ten grand cheaper than the Nissan Leaf! Where it slightly differs though is that Renault will lease the car’s battery to you, for €79 per month. This a) helps them to have a lower retail price, b) means that you don’t need to worry about any potential battery problems down the line as the batteries will naturally evolve and improve over time without the need for you to spend any additional money outside of your lease, and c) will potentially still be less than your normal petrol/diesel bill. The only downside to this is that say you go away for a three week holiday and leave the car at home, you’ll still have to pay your €79 that month and I’m still not sure how much of a charge the car will retain without use when full, so you may also come home to a car that will need a few hours charging though I stand to be corrected on this.
Although having the pay a monthly rental for their car’s battery, the Fluence ZE will the first mainstream fully electric car that is priced directly inline with its fuel burning rivals and that is one of the biggest obstacles currently holding people back from making the jump to electric. Now that the manufacturers are making these cars accessible to the masses, the onus is now on the shoulders of councils and power companies to create a proper charging infrastructure to make EV ownership easier. Renault predict that 1 in 10 cars on Irish roads will be electric by 2020 – an ambitious prediction that puts the pressure onto the energy company’s shoulders.
Renault plan to bring the Fluence ZE to market in 2012 and you can register your interest in it by visiting www.renault.ie