Renault get ready to charge with their new electric cars

Published on September 27, 2010   ·   No Comments

by David Williams

Your letterbox rattles and a confetti of “deals” hits the doormat. Among the junk from Virgin Media and offers from cleaners is a strange one; a car company offering to meet all your energy needs. Far-fetched? Not if French manufacturer Renault gets its way.

There’s a tense race between the car makers to see who can carve out the biggest slice of the electric car pie. The best analysis we have suggests that by 2020, 10 per cent of the UK car market will be electric, which means there could be around one million of the silent vehicles in use, which is big business.

Further analysis by Which? suggests that two per cent of cars will be petrol or diesel-electric hybrids, eight per cent plug-in hybrids, while eight per cent will be “extended electric range” vehicles, and two per cent electric hybrid, with a measly one per cent running on hydrogen.

But the problem facing Renault — which unveiled four new electric vehicles in London last week — is that selling cars raises key questions about where the power will come from.

Most electric cars may be charged at night — a useful fillip for energy firms as it will produce useful new night-time demands, helping to even out consumption over the 24-hour period and making it easier for them to make profits. But to charge the new Renaults effectively (they need 16 amps instead of the standard domestic 13 amps
for swift charging) and to ensure safeguards for the car’s and the home’s wiring, special new charging points costing around £1,000 will have to be installed in your home.

Just like that Virgin digi-box, or Dell computer on your desk, the charging point will be branded; so why shouldn’t it come from Renault and carry the famous diamond badge, too? And, while they’re at it, why shouldn’t they become an energy supplier? Why leave the profits to the existing suppliers?

But it’s all new territory and getting customers to switch can be hard, so there will be fierce competition and great incentives, which might see car firms establishing new partnerships with existing energy suppliers.

Your other worry is why should you be the guinea pig for an electric car? Might not battery technology finally leap forward, leaving you with an expensive, obsolete design? Renault’s thought of that too; you won’t own the battery in your shiny new car; you’ll lease it, for around £70 a month. So when it refuses to hold a charge, Renault will replace it for free and
recycle your old one.

All fascinating stuff, which brings us to the cars themselves. Renault hired the Old Dairy, hidden down an alley in WC1, to demonstrate its new wares which will hit our streets in the next two years … even if some of them look so futuristic it somehow doesn’t seem possible.

All will have lithium-ion batteries claimed to retain at least 80 per cent of their capacity for six years, and be capable of a 30-minute “quick charge” or 6-8 hour “standard” charge using cheap, night rates.

First out of the starting block will be the electric version of Renault’s small Kangoo van, arriving this summer with a top speed of 80 mph and a claimed 100-mile range. The Kangoo ZE (zero emission) will cost £16,990 plus VAT. There will be a charge of £59 per month to lease the battery.

Next up, in 2010, will be the Fluence, a graceful five-seat, four-door car with flowing lines and a sleek profile. It dispatched a short trip around WC1 with impressive smoothness. It will cost around £21,000 after the £5,000 subsidy, with the battery lease costing around £80 a month.

Also due for 2010 is the Twizy bubble car. Renault says the two-seater will have a 60-mile range, a 45mph top speed and “zip and accelerative surge to keep up effortlessly with the traffic”. Price? Around £6,000. Last up is the dynamic-looking Zoe five-door hatchback, destined for launch in mid 2012. The Zoe will cost around £14,000.

So there we have it. Four exciting new cars that will help clean up our air and cut (some) of the noise. What more could we want?

Well, more public charging points for one thing, although on-street ones will have to work fast to be much use.

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