Renault’s grand plan to dominate the European market for electric cars is gradually coming closer to fruition.
This week, the firm is offering journalists, dealers and and fleet buyers test drives in near-production examples of the Kangoo Z.E. van and Fluence Z.E. saloon out of a base near London’s Russell Square.
Yesterday I went along and got the latest on its thinking on battery leases. I also got to run around the block in an almost-finished Fluence. It was a pretty convincing test drive.
Up until now, Renault’s only let hacks drive the concept versions of its EVs, so it was impressive to discover just how normal and thoroughly executed the road cars will be. The Fluence I drove rode smoothly and quietly, and seemed every bit the comfortable, sizeable, usable, dependable family cars you’d hope for.
Range was the only compromise. The Fluence’s 100-mile range will be a problem for a lot of private and fleet buyers, but only because of the kind of car it is.
Drivers of big comfy saloons tend to spend a lot of their time on the motorway, and won’t fancy stopping every hour of their journey for a 45-minute quick charge. The Zoe supermini, also due in 2012, will sell to a much more suitable audience, however. Renault’s research suggests that almost 90 per cent of supermini owners have never driven further than 80 miles in a day. Ever.
And I can see a decent-sized audience for the bigger Fluence too. Imagine you’re a city cabby. At the moment you sink sixty quid’s worth of fuel into your Toyota Avensis every other day to do a couple of hundred miles in traffic so busy that makes your teeth itch. And every nine months or so, the local dealer relieves you of £400 for a major service.
Now along comes Renault and offers you an electric saloon that’s just as roomy and comfy, no more expensive to buy, has performance that’s just as good, and refinement that’s even better.
Running it will cost you £250 month; let’s say £150 for battery lease and £100 for the electric. That’s £350 less per month than you’re currently spending on juice. Oh, and just to sweeten the deal, it’s free for the congestion charge, it’ll be lighter on brakes than your Toyota, the service intervals will be much longer, and when you do bring it in for maintenance it’ll only cost you half as much because, well, apart from checking the fuses, wiping the headlights and emptying the ashtray, there isn’t much maintaining to do on an electric car.
You’d increase your take-home by more than £4000 a year by opting for the Fluence, I reckon. Sure, you wouldn’t be able to take those longer fares – but staying in the city and taking more numerous shorter ones makes you more money anyway.
Your only compromise would be taking 45 minutes off twice a day to have a cup of tea while your car charges up at a 50amp fast-charger.