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2012 Renault Fluence Z.E. Comprehensive Drive Report

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You might not know it, but the 2012 Renault Fluence Z.E. electric car is technically the world’s most in-demand electric car. With a massive 100,000 cars ordered by battery swap and charging infrastructure company Better Place and production already underway,  the French designed electric sedan from the Renault-Nissan alliance could be the highest-selling electric car of 2012.

Earlier this year, we got the chance to spend a few minutes driving a prototype Fluence Z.E. sedan through the streets of London, England during a press launch event. 

But a ten minute drive through the center of London traffic isn’t the best possible way to get a true impression of any new car, so when we were invited to Portugal to thoroughly test both the 2012 Fluence Z.E. and its minivan sibling -- the 2011 Kangoo Z.E. -- we couldn’t refuse. 

Background

The 2012 Renault Fluence Z.E. is Renault’s first all-electric mid-size sedan. Based upon its gasoline sibling -- the 2012 Fluence -- the Fluence Z.E. features seating for five, a range of 114 miles on the NEDC European test cycle, and a 22 kilowatt-hour lithium manganese battery pack. 

Since the 716 pound battery pack occupies the space directly behind the rear seats rather than beneath the car’s floor, Renault has extended the rear of the Fluence Z.E. by almost four inches  when compared to the gasoline Fluence. This is to ensure that it retains the same 11.19 cubic feet of trunk space as its fossil-fueled sibling. 

Apart from the slightly longer body, the 2012 Fluence Z.E. looks identical to the gasoline version from a distance. Get closer, and the specially-designed grille, wheels and dual J1772 charging ports hint at the all-electric drivetrain. 

Batteries, rapid charging,  not included

2012 Renault Fluence Z.E.

2012 Renault Fluence Z.E.

Enlarge Photo

Unlike other electric cars on the market, the Renault Fluence Z.E. is sold without batteries included. Customers will then be expected to enter into a monthly service contract with Renault in exchange for a fully maintained, fully guaranteed battery pack. Like a cellphone talk plan, the amount charged will vary according to how much the car is used. 

For most markets, this is how Renault plans to sell the mid-size sedan. But in Israel, Denmark and Australia, customers can opt to rent their car battery pack directly from Better Place.

With an order of 100,000 Fluence Z.E. cars already signed, Better Place -- and its 3- minute rapid swap battery station business model -- has ensured that Renault has already made a profit on the $30,000 electric car, not to mention the multitude of battery packs Better Place will have ordered. 

And while Renault executives won’t admit it, the relationship with Better Place is probably the reason why the Fluence Z.E. doesn’t feature the rapid D.C. charging capability of the 

Nissan Leaf. To do so would constitute a direct commercial challenge to Better Place. 


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Comments (3)
  1. Too slow. Technology that surely will be eclipsed by the more affordable batteries that seem very close at hand. Like the Volt and range extended EVs, these look to be made obsolete long before the design's planned lifespan. Lack of competition for battery packs, service, etc. is a horrible situation. These battery packs are going to prove very expensive, with lots of overhead. You are subscribing to our generation's version of the company store. Proprietary technologies are always a step backwards.
     
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  2. "And that’s a big shame, because consumers don’t need another gadget-filled, hard-to-understand electric car."

    Mitsubishi i is the car for those who don't need gadget-filled, hard-to-understand electric car.
     
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  3. I can understand why in markets wher Better Place is present, Renaultmhave been asked to make a car that drives customers towards the BP swap stations. However, in other countries where there is no intention to set up swap stations, such as the UK (as told to me by Renault), they have shot themselves in the foot massively by limiting a car like this to a 3kW charger. It was one of the reasons I backed out (others being practicality, boring drive and delay in delivery) and it will certainly lead to a rash of stories about how this could have been a great car apart from the non-utility of a car that is effectively limited to a 40 mile radius.

    Come on Renault, do the right thing and stick a CHAdeMO on it to make use Nissan's network.
     
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