Why The Renault Zoe Is Europe's Most Important Electric Car

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2013 Renault Zoe electric car (European model) at 2012 Paris Auto Show

2013 Renault Zoe electric car (European model) at 2012 Paris Auto Show

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You may never have heard of Europe's most important electric car.

It's the Renault Zoe, an all-electric subcompact that won't be sold in the United States.

It comes from French Renault, a company that shares technology with Japan's Nissan--which introduced the Leaf compact electric hatchback here in December 2010.

You can think of the Zoe as the Leaf's younger and more stylish half-sibling, if you like.

But its success, both in France and across the broader European market, will be crucial in setting expectations for how well plug-in electric cars do in Europe.

With hordes of subcompact and compact diesel cars available in Europe, and more drivers living in multiple dwellings without their own garages, Europe may be a tougher challenge for electric cars in some ways.

On the other hand, France's' electric grid has a great deal of nuclear power, meaning switching from burning hydrocarbon-based liquid fuels to driving on electrons really does have an impact on carbon emissions--much more so than in countries with coal-rich generation.

And Parisians already have some experience with electric cars, through the AutoLib electric car-sharing program that has put 1,750 Bollore BlueCars at 760 roadside charging kiosks in the capital region.

In late December, Renault delivered a total of 11 Zoes. The very first one went to France's minister for industrial development, Arnaud Montebourg, and 10 more to the Leclerc store chain, which has installed charging stations at some of its stores.

2013 Renault Zoe electric car (European model) at 2012 Paris Auto Show

2013 Renault Zoe electric car (European model) at 2012 Paris Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

The Zoe will start arriving in volume at Renault dealerships in France this spring.

Installation of public charging stations has lagged the initial projections, and there seems to be a chicken-and-egg situation, with some groups saying they don't want to spend the money on stations until there are cars to use them.

But the most important thing about the Renault Zoe is that it is the sole dedicated electric car from a European brand; there is no gasoline version.

Aside from the low-volume specialized Bollore BlueCar, no other European maker now offers a dedicated battery electric vehicle.

That will change late this year, when the 2014 BMW i3 goes on sale.

2013 Renault Zoe electric car (European model) at 2012 Paris Auto Show

2013 Renault Zoe electric car (European model) at 2012 Paris Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

But even the largest European automaker, Volkswagen, has said that its first battery electric Golf E will be an adapted from its next-generation 2014 Golf compact hatchback.

So watch the reception carefully this spring as the Renault Zoe begins to hit the streets of France.

If it's well reviewed and its owners becomes evangelists for driving electric--as many Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla Model S drivers are in the States--then prospects are good.

Otherwise, it may be possible that Renault will have to backtrack on its optimistic projections for electric car sales in its early  years--as Nissan has already done.


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Comments (9)
  1. John, I agree - I think the Zoe could be a gamechanger in Europe, the first EV that could break through into the mass market.

    However, it has had a rough ride over the last few months. First of all there have been a series of delays (e.g. http://myrenaultzoe.com/index.php/2012/11/delay-in-zoe-deliveries, http://myrenaultzoe.com/index.php/2012/12/new-delay-for-renault-zoe), and more recently some controversy over the availability of a domestic charging cable (e.g. http://myrenaultzoe.com/index.php/2013/01/zoe-delivered-without-occasional-charging-cable). Nothing official has come from Renault.

    At best, Renault is handling the PR very badly. At worst, it's starting to look like Renault is downplaying the Zoe in favour of the Clio/other ICEs

  2. John, I don't quite agree with one of your comments. The Zoe and Clio are both raised on the same platform. Also, the chassis of both are almost identical; you really have to take a close look to discern which is which.
    Renault seem to have become a bit apprehensive about the battery resulting from the encountered thermal problems in Arizona with the Leaf. I don't approve of Renault's decision to lease the battery which is more than likely a result of the afore mentioned problematic. I've cast my eyes for some time on the Zoe but that leasing scheme has put me somewhat off.

  3. Hi Yoat,

    While the Zoe and Clio may share underlying components, there will be no gasoline version of the former, nor electric version of the latter - so the Zoe is still a dedicated electric car.

    It's also worth mentioning that Renault announced its battery rental strategy long before Nissan started having issues with Leaf batteries out in Arizona - it's simply the business model they've chosen to use from the start.

  4. "The Zoe and Clio are both raised on the same platform. Also, the chassis of both are almost identical"

    Do you have a source to back that up? They are reported as having different chassis, with the Zoe significantly taller so it can have its batteries under the passenger compartment.

  5. Yea. but if the ZOE is not battery swappable its no more than a glorified golf cart. For some reason it is not which makes no sense at all because its the very battery, 22 KwH, only screwed in place , and therefore range-limited. i would have taken it as a second car, but not if its 60 km radius

  6. I believe the Zoe is battery swapable, and they do plan to run it in the countries that has Better Places program, unfortunatley I don't believe Better Places will be extending to the likes of the UK.

  7. The Zoe is not battery swappable as unlike the Fluence the battery is built in under the passenger compartment.

    I don't understand the comment about 60km. The NEDC range is 210km, with Renault quoting a real-world range of 80-150km depending on weather and speed.

    Trevor, MyRenaultZoe.com

  8. Zoe has “Chameleon” on-board charger capable of 43kW delivery. 80% charge in about 30 minutes, so why swap. Battery lease is designed to mimic monthly car payment plus gasoline bill cash flow to facilitate cost comparisons with ICE, and to remove acquisition cost as a barrier to entry for EV power train.

  9. It also adds full protection, warranty and breakdown cover should you run out of 'fuel', or if the battery cells go below 80% these will be replaced as part of the warranty.

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