ONE of Europe’s pioneering electric drives seems set to at last plug into the New Zealand motoring scene, in its original hatch form as well as a more recent van version.
CITY-restricted fleet users as well as about-towners who only entertain short duration drives appear to be the primary target of two Renault electric vehicles being cited for New Zealand introduction.
Renault New Zealand, which to date has made best sales progress with the specialist RS-badged Megane and Clio hot hatches, has signalled a new interest in selling two pure electric Zoe models – the original hatchback which has been in Europe for almost six years plus a Kangoo van version.
The Auckland-domiciled distributor has not said exactly when the cars will be made available for sale, let alone at what price, but has left clear impression it feels 2016 is the year when it needs to deliver on a long-held intent to enter into the electric car sphere.
It has previously suggested a lack of a visible electric vehicle policy from Government has kept the brakes on a meaningful EV rollout. However, clearly it feels the need to now progress nonetheless.
“Renault NZ is currently preparing for the rollout of its electric vehicle range in the near future,” the brand said in a message posted on its website at Christmas.
“This preparation involves research into infrastructure, training and a full support system.
“More details about our plans to be EV-ready will follow and you will be able to sign up for monthly electric vehicle updates from mid-January, 2016.”
The national electric car fleet is still miniscule – fewer than 1000 vehicles are registered – but presently Nissan, BMW and Mitsubishi all offer new cars that prioritise electric power. However, only the Nissan Leaf stands alongside the Zoe models in being a pure electric. The BMW i3 (and i8) and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV are range extenders, which means that will they run on electric power they also have conventional petrol engines to act as power generators, so as to avoid any anxiety about running out of zap at an inopportune moment.
Whereas the Kangoo Zoe is a derivative of a conventional vehicle first designed to take a fossil-fueled engine, the Zoe has been designed from the ground up as an electric-only affair and shares bo commonality with any existing internal-combustion-engined model. It shares much of its drivetrain with the Leaf.
The Zoe is powered by a 65kW/220Nm electric motor and features a 22kWh lithium-ion battery hidden under the floor.
It can run for 210km before requiring a charge, although a real-world range estimate pulls that back to about 120-150km. Top speed is listed at 135kmh.
One likely incentive for Renault now is the rollout of a national network of fast charge stations. Recharging the Zoe from a 16-amp single-phase wall box can take nine hours, but plugged into a 63-amp three-phase system takes just 30 minutes.
At 4084mm long, 1730mm wide, 1568mm high and with a generous 338-litre boot, the five-seat Zoe is similar in size to an average light car such as the Clio, Volkswagen Polo and Mazda2. In 2013 it received a five star crash test rating from Euro NCAP.
The airy cabin design takes cues from the Leaf. The car debuted the French company’s R-Link multimedia system, now found in the new Clio and the current Megane. R-Link features a seven-inch touchscreen tablet, sat-nav, speech recognition and a host of connectivity technology.
In Europe Zoe variants can be monitored remotely via mobile phone, tablet or computer, with users able to control the battery charging remotely (switching it on or off) and adjust the cabin cooling and heating system, which operates when the vehicle is charging.
The electric Kangoo ZE will likely place as a select choice alternate to the expanded ranged of orthodox versions of the small van, though intriguingly Renault NZ has signalled it can bring it here in five-seater format – perhaps seeing it as a cheap family MPV model - as an alternate to the traditional two-chair worker edition.
Renault NZ’s marketing intention for the commercial variant is not clear yet, but it could be seeking to emulate a pitch tried in Australia, which involved seeking attention from city-restricted delivery businesses.
A desire by Renault’s Australian importer to discover more about specific EV driving habits among Australians, as well as how to best support larger-scale fleets of EV commercials in the mid-term future resulted in four Kangoo ZEs being placed with Australia Post since May 2014 – a good fit as, in France, it is a frontline postal delivery vehicle. Most French Kangoo ZE mail vans clock just 70kms per day.
The battery-powered Kangoo has a real-world driving range of between 80 and 125km and an official NEDC range of 170km. Power comes from a 44kW/226Nm AC electric motor matched to a 22kWh lithium-ion battery that weighs 260kg. A 3kW plug will charge the cells in 6-9 hours.