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Renault ZOE ZE Ready for Channel Crossing

By Bill Moore

The World's lowest priced, fully-road capable electric car is about to invade Britain, but there's a caveat: batteries are not included.

The French are preparing to cross the English Channel again. This time with the lowest-priced, super-mini class electric car on the market: the Renault ZOE Z.E.

When you include the British government's £5,000 EV grant and 75% rebate on the home charger, the ZOE is priced at a starting £13,995 (US$21,150 or 16,350€).

Of course, the deal has a major caveat: batteries are not included.

Well, actually, they are, but not in the price of the car. Buyers in Europe, where the car will be sold, will rent, or maybe the better term is "lease" the battery starting at £70 a month for three years at 7,500 miles annually. Presumably rates are higher the more miles the car is driven each year. Renault packages the two-place Twizy using a similar "buy-the-car-rent-the-battery' contract, the aim of which is to assuage any buyer apprehension on battery replacement costs. If battery charge capacity drops below 75 percent of its original state-of-charge (SOC) -- and you haven't let the car sit uncharged for weeks or months so that the battery effectively dies (an important proviso), Renault replaces it free of charge.

While some buyers aren't interested in this type of financial arrangement - as an EV World reader poll showed a couple years ago -- Renault is betting many more will find it reassuring. Time will tell. But the ZOE, which happens to be a popular girl's name in France and initially caused more than its share of controversy when Renault announced it, is a unique EV in other ways, as well.

Renault claims six firsts for the car, which began in 2008 as Project X10.

1. The first production electric vehicle with prices starting from £13,995 (after incentive, battery rental from £70 per month for 7,500 miles per year over three years
2. The first production electric vehicle with a range homologated at over 130 miles (NEDC standardised cycle).
3. Able to cover between 62 and 93 miles depending on driving style and weather conditions, ZOE has the longest range in its category. An achievement owed to its Range OptimiZEr system, which boosts range in all driving conditions.
4. The first electric vehicle that can be charged in between 30 minutes and nine hours depending on the power of the charging station (between 3 et 43 kW), from just one socket, thanks to the Chameleon charger.
5. ZOE can be fast charged (43 kW – 80% of the battery in 30 minutes) at stations whose cost is just one quarter that of existing fast-charge systems.
6. The first vehicle equipped as standard with Renault R-Link, an integrated, connected multimedia tablet.

Besides the remarkable list price of the car and pioneering battery lease arrangement, maybe the most interesting technical advance of the car is its Chameleon charging system, which enables the ZOE to be charged through the same charge port using power ratings from 3kW to 43kW. In practical terms, this means that if you use the 220V Wall-Box home charger that comes packaged with the car - a £500 cost paid for by both Renault and the UK government - it will take up to 9 hours to recharge the 22kWh pack. But if you can find a 43kW fast-charger, you can recharge the car to 80% capacity in just 30 minutes, but Renault warns that using that level of power not only impacts the grid, but likely will shorten the life of the battery. Instead, they recommending owners use the more numerous 22kW chargers being installed across Europe. At this gentler charge rate, the car can be recharged to 80% SOC in one hour.

Renault explains how they were able to build an onboard charger with such a wide range of power capabilities.

The Chameleon charger is a solution developed by Renault to fit electric cars with a powerful onboard charger at limited cost. The basic idea is to “divert” the motor and inverter from their role in providing traction so that they also contribute to the charging of the battery. The Junction Box, a new sub-system developed by Renault, manages the charging process, changes the alternating current to direct current and communicates with the charging station. The Chameleon charger’s Junction Box is only slightly bigger and heavier than the 3V charger found on most other electric vehicles on the market but, thanks to the use of the inverter and motor windings, charging power can reach 43 kW.

The ZOE incorporates a number of other interesting innovations, including 'Take care by Renault,' which comes on the upgraded ZOE Dynamique Zen model. The company describes it this way:

Renault ZOE ships with a wide range of features dedicated to comfort. For example, the cabin can be pre-heated to the right temperature (22°C) before the driver gets in. The air breathed in inside the car is cleaner, and the air conditioning maintains a sufficient level of moisture in the air to avoid dry skin.

The car also adapts to outside air pollution levels and cleans it using an air filter system based on electrostatic layers and activated carbon. There is even an active scent diffuser for which you can buy replacement cartridges of specially formulated scents by one of the leading producers of concentrates for the perfume industry. The car's HVAC system is based on a heat pump, which reduces the energy load on the battery for heating and cooling the passenge cabin, resulting in less loss of driving range.

A relaxing and pleasurable driving experience is a lot of what the ZOE is all about when you read Renault's official press release. In addition to the car's delightful handling and acceleration -- 0-50 mph takes just 4 seconds -- Renault touts its quiet interior where it's engineers have measured the noise level between 25 and 50 mph at 60-65 dB, which is "between two and three times less than an ICE vehicle of equivalent power," they emphasize. This enables passengers to more fully enjoy the 3D Sound by Arkamys® that comes on the Zen and Intens versions.

The car is also very quiet on the outside, so at speeds between 1 and 18 mph, the Z.E. Voice system, which has three driver-selectable sound options: "Pure', "Glam" and "Sport," automatically activates to warn pedestrians and cyclists of the approaching car. The driver can turn off the system, if they like, but it automatically resets itself when the car is turned back on.

On the warranty side, Renault offers a 4-year program on the car and a 5 year/100,000 mile warranty on the electric powertrain. The battery, of course, carries a lifetime warranty under the terms of the rental agreement. What happens if the owner decides to stop renting the battery, isn't explained, but I have asked Renault for a clarification.

If you live in the UK, you can pre-order the car and British Gas will install the Wall-Box 3kW home charger in advance for you. The home unit comes as part of a package with the car, courtesy of the government's incentive program (75% of the cost) and Renault (25%). The car officially goes on sale in Britain June 2013.

Addendum - Mike Gale with Renault UK advises that its financial arm, RCI, can remotely inhibit the battery so that it won't charge should car owner fail to make their monthly rental payments.

Times Article Viewed: 6787
Originally published: 21 Mar 2013

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