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.
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.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.