Renault drives into the electric future

 

THE ELECTRIC CAR revolution simply hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it was a little too optimistic to expect that in the midst of a savage recession, that we would all throw caution to the wind and start buying new electric cars, which are pretty expensive.

Despite the hype, sales of the Nissan’s electric Leaf have been lacklustre.

This might be about to change. Renault Ireland’s ability to convince scores of Irish motorists to buy the French firm’s regular fare thanks to some extraordinary pricing might extend into the world of the electric vehicle in the coming months.

The Fluence ZE is the first of a myriad of electric models due from the French brand in the coming years. And with a different approach to how to get the keys into owners’ hands Renault will be making the leap into these electric cars significantly less daunting.

The Fluence range is well known to Irish buyers thanks to some shrewd business by Renault. It has sold like hot cakes since it came out and the electric version won’t require too much of a leap for existing customers.

Firstly, it looks pretty similar to the regular version. It probably will go unnoticed by many but the electric Fluence is 130mm longer than the standard car because the 280kg lithium-ion batteries take up quite a bit of space.

These batteries are located behind the rear seats, and Renault didn’t want to compromise the generous 317-litres of boot space of the Fluence, they just made the boot bigger and the car longer.

Other more obvious changes to the electric version is a special front grille and a new rear light cluster. There is also a blue tint to the lights, minor changes to the fog light surrounds and badging and special aerodynamically efficient alloy wheels.

Unlike the Leaf, which is very futuristic inside with touchscreen controls and impressive graphics, the Fluence ZE is very similar to the standard diesel version.

Driving the car is not much different from a regular Fluence either. Press the starter button and the car moves off in relative silence, aside from some tyre noise and a faint futuristic whine that sounds like something from The Jetsons.

Renault says the car’s range will vary depending on driving style and conditions but 120-140km seems quite realistic from our test drives in the car.

On the road the ride is tuned for comfort, again in keeping with the regular Fluence, so it can get a little unsettled on poor surfaces.

Renault has confirmed the price of the Fluence ZE will start at €21,620 on the road (after the €5,000 Government grant), the same pricing as a Fluence diesel. But the big difference between the Fenault’s approach and Nissans is that buyers will lease the battery pack for €79 per month instead of buying it outright with the car .

Renault’s approach is based on the fact that the industry is focussing on battery technology these days there are likely to be significant advances in the coming years, particularly in terms of range and weight.

As these improvements are rolled out, owners can upgrade the Fluence’s battery pack and benefit from the better range. The risk of obsolence and redundancy therefore rests with the car firm.

It’s a smart move that may well provide the reassurance buyers need to make the leap to an electric car.

As for running costs, Renault claims a full charge at home will cost around €2 on night-time rates, giving 120km/h of driving. That should win a few more buyers for the brand next year.

FACTFILE

Price:€21,620 plus €79 per month for battery lease;

In Ireland:Early 2012

Top speed:135km/h (limited);

0-100km/h:13sec;

Range:up to 185km;

Charging time:6-8 hours;

Kerbweight:1605kg; Motor type: synchronous electric with rotor coil;

Batteries: 22kWh capacity;

Power: 95bhp;

Torque:225Nm