Tourism, hotel work another resort for Twizy

Lack of road worthiness might not keep an outlandish Renault from cutting a track here.


FAILURE to win permission to put the especially quirky Renault electric vehicle into road use might not inhibit its sale here.

Renault New Zealand has imported two examples of the space buggy-style Twizy two seater as a promotional pointer to the plug-in battery-powered car and van it has recently put on sale.

The first public appearance will come in Auckland this weekend, however there won’t be any quick runs around the block … the road worthiness homologation that allows this factory product to operate in Europe and in the United Kingdom doesn't extend here.

So, for now at least, it can only be demonstrated in carparks and the like. And even though Renault NZ has tentatively priced it at around $30,000 - the same money as New Zealand's favourite car, the Toyota Corolla - they have yet to decide if it will go into the local showroom.

Twizy is subject of legislative vexation. Even though it has a steering wheel rather than handlebars and has car-like safety construction - with its four-point seatbelts, driver’s airbag, safety cell body structure and front and rear crumple zones - the model's modest size and performance and tandem seating make it something our road regs don't consider: A quadricycle.

As a halfway between a motorcycle and a car it falls into a regulatory gap that can only be remedied by, at the very least, dispensation from NZ Transport Agency.

This would at least allow it to be operated as a road vehicle provided the driver and passenger wear crash helmets, Renault here says.

Salvatori Marti, brand manager for Renault NZ, hopes it will eventually be allowed onto the road but also doubts agencies will be spinning their wheels to give the green light.

Obviously a model just 2.3 metres long and 1.2 metres wide with minimal weather protection and whose electric motor makes 13kW of power and 57Nm of torque for a top speed of 81kmh and a range of up to 100km is just a city-centric anyway, potentially just for main centres but probably not for their motorways for the same reason scooters cannot: It’s too slow.

If Twizy doesn’t win road-worthiness, the distributor might nonetheless bring it in as a golf cart alternate runabout for resorts, tourism opportunities and the like, Marti has mused.

It has adopted just a such a role in the United Kingdom. One operator in the Lakes District, for instance, hires out Twizys for modest off-road exploits on unpaved tracks through the countryside.

But that’s not a priority consideration. For the here and now it’s simply here to fly the flag.

“It’s a good pointer to our technology and the cars we sell,” Marti said.

“What we’ve done initially is to bring it here because, it’s an electric vehicle, what we’ve all going for, so it’s initially going to promote EVs and awareness of what you can do.

“In the long term, yes, we would like to try to sell it, perhaps even if it is only to private tourism operators and the like to use on private land … we’re not entirely sure yet, we will leave that side of things open.

“We are also pursuing, in the background, some sort of type homologation for it, but we don’t have much to report at the moment.

“There is a way to get it into the road today, and that is to apply for an exemption which would allow you to run it on most roads if you were wearing a crash helmet.

“Physically it is a quadricycle but there isn’t an actual classification for those here at the moment, so it’s one of those unknown areas for us.”

He says there’s no issue securing Twizy for New Zealand. The model has been in production since 2012, after all. That raises potential for used import examples – not so much out of Europe as out of Japan, as it is sold there as a Nissan.

MotoringNetwork has been told the Nissan model, labelled the NMC– for ‘New Mobility Concept’ - are readily available at a much lower price than a factory-fresh example.

Clearly the used import market is interested. An industry magazine has reported that the Imported Motor Vehicle Industry Association has also put a proposal to NZTA to have the vehicles classified.

Marti said he wasn’t too aware of what might happen there. “

Twizy’s minimalist design should not be misinterpreted. It was considered the safest of four quadricycles tested by European New Car Assessment Program (ENCAP) in 2014.

The safety watchdog tested the quadricycles in a 50km/h frontal crash – down from 64km/h for cars – and a side-impact shunt at 50km/h, which is the same speed at cars.

ENCAP’s approval did not impress our neighbour. When Twizy was pitched to Australia two years ago, it was rejected for lacking electronic stability control – which is now mandatory for all new cars sold here – and side intrusion bars.

Marti does not think that will be an issue here, ironically enough “because even though it has a steering wheel it is not a car.”