RENAULT Australia has decided to bite the bullet and introduce two electric vehicles, the Yaris-sized Zoe and Kangoo ZE compact van, from November this year.
The Zoe will start at $44,470 plus on-road costs, with a higher-specified $45,970 Intens version also available. The Kangoo ZE is to be $45,990 plus on-roads in long-wheelbase form with four cubic metres of cargo volume and a 650kg payload.
Once stamp duty and rego are accounted for, these battery-powered vehicles do not leave much change from $50,000.
The Zoe’s 41kWh battery is capable of a 300km real-world driving range, while the Kangoo ZE’s 33kWh of power storage translates into 200km between recharges.
Neither can be charged from a standard 240V power outlet, so Renault is doing deals with local suppliers to sell customers a 7kW wall box charger separately that is expected to cost another $2000, providing a full charge from empty in around seven hours or a 30km range top-up in an hour.
Renault will initially aim these two electric models at business and government customers, selling them exclusively and directly through its corporate sales division.
Orders will be delivered through specific dealerships in Melbourne and Sydney, but consumers will not be able to walk up to a showroom and glide silently away in a Zoe or Kangoo ZE.
However, Renault assured SightGlass News that sole traders on an ABN are more than welcome to place an order.
Considering Renault’s next most expensive light car, the Clio RS Trophy hot hatch costs $42,990 driveaway and a diesel LWB Kangoo with superior 829kg payload costs $19,000 less than the ZE version, these electric vehicles do look like a hard sell for anyone but a committed environmentalist.
Then again, the BMW i3 costs from $63,900 plus on-roads with a 240km range and the Model 3 that Tesla is struggling to build in significant numbers will be priced between $50,000 and $60,000 when it finally arrives Down Under with a 354km range.
Also, Nissan has indicated that its second-generation Leaf, due late next year and the next size up from a Zoe but with a similar battery range, is unlikely to plunge to the sub-$40K prices it resorted to when trying to shift the old version to uninterested Australians.
So for now, the two Renaults will be the most affordable electric vehicles on sale in Australia.
And if these R1234yf heat pump equipped vehicles are a success, VASA workshop members in Australia can expect to see a few requiring repair in the coming years.
Having driven both in Paris in the lead-up to the Frankfurt motor show, SightGlass News can confirm the Zoe goes a long way toward justifying its price tag, while the Kangoo struggles to do the same unless it can really make an impact on running costs.
This is largely because the Zoe was built from the ground up as an electric car, whereas the Kangoo has simply been converted. A 100km disparity in battery range between the two vehicles doesn’t help either.
Users of early electric cars experienced range anxiety due to the short battery range, slow recharge times and sparse charging infrastructure. The Zoe, at least, addresses the first of these issues.
When we jumped into a fully-charged Zoe at Renault’s depot 10km southwest of central Paris, the dashboard reported 297km of battery range. Having covered 82.4km during half a day of driving around Paris and its suburbs, we returned the car with 229km remaining, meaning the it had bettered its own prediction by more than 14km.
For people whose cars never venture far beyond the city limits, the Zoe’s 300km range makes it a realistic proposition.
Previous experiences with electric cars were that motorway and country driving quickly run their batteries down, but our trip included plenty of higher-speed stints, including at the 130km/h French motorway speed limit.
The Zoe easily achieved this cruising speed, with the main noise a bit of wind rustle from the roof above and the eerie smoothness that comes from a lack of reciprocating combustion engine.
With power and torque outputs of 68kW and 220Nm the Zoe is on-par with a small turbo-diesel, but it feels much more lively due to the instant throttle response and the fact peak torque is delivered from zero revs.
Borrowing steering components from the Clio RS and having a low centre of gravity from its under-slung battery pack, the Zoe also feels fun and rewarding to drive in city traffic and on twisty back-roads.
Considering its size, the Zoe’s light and airy interior is spacious enough for four adults to travel comfortably and the smooth, quiet way it moves along also belies its compact dimensions.
The simple digital dashboard provides just the right amount of information in a clear way, although the dated, slow, lo-res touchscreen sat-nav and audio unit is a clear link to the fact the Zoe has been on sale in Europe since 2012.
Meanwhile the Kangoo cannot match the stylish Zoe cabin’s designed-for-electric feel. Apart from subtly re-purposed instrument dials, the Kangoo ZE cabin is just like the petrol or diesel version.
It even starts with an old-fashioned ignition key that offers few visual or audible cues that the vehicle is ready to go once turned, other than illuminating a few dashboard lights while the air-conditioning whirs to life. It is similarly uninformative in that it is not as easy as the Zoe to know how much battery remains.
For some reason, the Kangoo ZE also has a lot less power than the Zoe at 44kW, but 5Nm more torque. It certainly feels much slower on the move and has far less of a point-and-squirt ability for weaving through gaps in traffic.
The Kangoo ZE also feels less natural to drive than the Zoe due to a regenerative braking effect so strong that it is possible to drive some way without ever using the brake pedal. It takes some getting used to, and even the Zoe’s much subtler engine braking effect added 3km to its battery range readout on a single twisty descent.
No doubt, a hard-working delivery driver would appreciate the Kangoo ZE’s quietness, smoothness and lack of vibration compared with a combustion-powered van.
But business owners need to really crunch some numbers to ensure their running costs and any subjective enhancement to an employee’s working environment are worth the ZE’s substantial price premium.
And its lack of differentiation inside, and especially out, may not be enough to satisfy those wanting to communicate their green image compared with a Toyota Prius or Smart car.
We can, however, imagine fleets of Zoe hatchbacks wrapped in company liveries silently zipping about the nation’s cities.