Joining them soon will be the Renault Fluence ZE, an electric, zero emissions version of the French car maker’s mid-sized sedan.
The big difference between Fluence and other EVs is that its entire battery can be swapped for a fully charged one greatly extending range.
Range or more specifically lack of it is one of the major drawbacks of EVs that can normally travel only 100km or so before they need to be recharged.
Also, being new technology, until now EVs have been prohibitively expensive.
We travelled to Portugal this week where we were able to drive the Renault Fluence ZE which is due to arrive in showrooms towards the end of next year.
At 4.75m the ZE is 180kg heavier and 13cm longer than the standard model. The extra length accommodates the battery which sits vertically behind the rear seat. The electric motor generates 70kW of power and 226Nm of torque. There are no gears or gearbox as such, just forward and reverse and it has a top speed of 135km/h. Full torque is available from zero revs and it can accelerate to 100km/h in 13.0 seconds (petrol model does it in 10.1). With a capacity of 22kW/h it has a range of 185km, but this varies depending on conditions and the way you drive. Apart from a smallish boot, it’s in all other respects just a normal car.
Renault has not set a price yet but has indicated it will be under $40,000 and that it will be generously equipped. To that figure, however, must be added the cost of the battery which will be supplied separately under a lease arrangement by Better Place based in Melbourne. With branches in Israel, Denmark and the US, the company has been formed to provide the infrastructure that will make electric vehicles possible. It’s not talking prices either, but overseas customers are paying $110 a month which includes the power itself – but there could be an additional charge for the home charger. The power by the way is all “green” power.
HOW DOES IT GO?
Not bad. It’s certainly no golf buggy. It feels and performs like a real car, not some pretend one and could easily replace that gas guzzler in the driveway. It’s much quieter of course and throttle response was slow at times but generally OK – providing that is you’re not expecting a V8. It can even be punted hard through corners without coming unstuck. We particularly like the downhill braking effect provided by the engine. But we suspect the hard, low roll resistance Goodyears could be harsh on our roads. A sophisticated GPS-based management system keeps track of power usage and let’s you know when and where to find a charge or battery swap station if needed.
Renault and Better Place believe 90 per cent of customers will charge the car when they get home at night. This takes from six to eight hours but for longer journeys the idea is to call into one of the Quick Drop stations that will be established where a depleted battery can be replaced with a fully charged one, a process which takes about five minutes. Both the power supplied this way and at home is provided free as part of the lease deal. If you spend $80 or more a week on petrol Better Place claims it will save you money.
YES OR NO?
You better get used to the idea. It’s the way of the future and as the technology gets better so will the cars (and their range). The price of oil is only going to go up, not to mention the environmental consequences of continuing to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The very fact we’ve been driving this car suggests the change is closer than you think. It’s simply a matter of making the decision to switch.