The Geneva motor show has always been known for its green vehicles, but electric cars played a greater part than ever this year. French marque Renault was one of the main players with its range of four production electric vehicles.
As part of the "Papillon Vert" (Green Butterfly) exhibition, visitors are able to sample some of the most important electric cars of the now, including the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, 2011 Nissan LEAF, Tata Indica EV and of course, the Renault Fluence and Kango Z.E. models.
We took a Fluence for a quick spin. Though only a short drive around the show's perimeter service roads in the unregistered Fluence, it gave us a good impression of what France's most important electric car would be like on the road. With a few places to test the acceleration and braking, some tight corners and plenty of tight maneuvers, we couldn't really complain.
After experiencing a Nissan LEAF you might be left thinking the Fluence Z.E. is a little plain both on the outside and in the cabin, but Renault told us that this is to attract those interested in EVs but without the desire for their car to stand out as an overtly electric purchase. To this end, the Fluence is very similar to the gasoline and diesel versions sold in Europe and elsewhere.
The starting procedure is familiar too. Foot on the brake, and twist the key as normal. A little green light in the instrument panel illuminates with a jingle, and a faint buzzing can be heard. Slide it into drive on the standard automatic-style Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive gate, foot off the brake and the Fluence creeps forward like any other automatic vehicle.
The difference of course is the sound, or lack of it. There's a lack of anything approaching noise, vibration and harshness too. The smooth controls echo the utterly smooth and silent progress as you whoosh along. Indeed, with no noise-generating device we initially had to creep along behind a group of pedestrians who simply couldn't hear us.
With those on foot out of the way, we pressed the accelerator pedal a little harder to be rewarded with the familiar surge of a torquey electric motor. No noise, no gearchanges, just acceleration. A turning point allowed us to test reverse. Equally smooth, reverse is achieved by switching the motor's polarity.
The Renault representative told us that 0-60mph acceleration takes around 9.9 seconds, and at lower speeds it's significantly quicker than the gasoline or diesel variants. Range is around 100 miles, and charging takes between 4 and 8 hours.
The Fluence isn't compatible with fast chargers yet, but when it is the car will apparently reach 80 percent charge in only 20 minutes. Renault is also making a big deal about the Better Place battery swaps, where a new battery can be exhanged for your depleted one in only five minutes. The Better Place "Quickdrop" system will be initially rolled out in Israel and Denmark, before spreading to other territories.
Other than the impressive performance, the Fluence drove well. The ride was good over broken sections of road and the turning circle very tight, which should make city driving a breeze.
The Fluence Z.E. is expected to start at around 22,000 Euros, or $30,300 before local and national incentives.
As mentioned at the start, the idea behind the Fluence ZE is that drivers of regular cars should feel equally at home behind the wheel of an electric vehicle as they do in any other car. Based on brief impressions, the Fluence ZE achieves this and with its partner the Nissan LEAF, the Renault-Nissan Alliance will be a force to be reckoned with in the international EV market.