2012 Renault Fluence ZE electric car (European model) at 2012 Paris Auto Show
Au revoir, Renault Fluence Z.E.
You were among the first electric cars on the market, and you've lived through Better Place's bankruptcy, but now you're gone.
Gas2 reports that Renault has quietly discontinued its electric sedan, which has sold little more than 3,500 units since going on sale in 2011.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: We've subsequently learned that this story was broken by Transport Evolved, back on January 7. That site's reporting preceded the article 12 days later on Globes.co, the Israeli business site, which Gas2 used as its source.]
Most of its troubles have stemmed from the bankruptcy of battery-swapping service Better Place. The car had been designed around the battery-switching concept, which involves dropping the upright battery pack through the bottom of the car and having another installed.
Better Place, based in Israel and Denmark, had made plans to sell tens of thousands of cars through its network, but in the end those plans never materialized. Renault has previously claimed it was "unfazed" by the bankruptcy, but it's clearly reduced the vehicle's potential.
In fairness to the Israeli firm, Fluence Z.E. sales were never high in the first place, Renault's offering never desirable, nor competitive, nor high-profile enough to really break through like partner Nissan has done with the Leaf.
The upright battery ate into trunk space, and in Europe, sedan sales are relatively low anywhere compared to their hatchback alternatives--making the Fluence Z.E. a niche product in an already niche market.
Luckily for Renault, the Fluence represents a relatively minor investment. Development costs were split with technology firm Samsung (another Renault partner) and its Fluence-based SM3 ZE electric vehicle is apparently doing better in the South Korean market.
In Europe itself, the Kangoo Z.E. van, the Zoe subcompact and the Twizy commuter vehicle are all selling in greater numbers. Zoe sales have now passed 10,000 units, just one fifth of Renault's target but among the better-selling EVs in Europe.
Cumulative Twizy sales have now surpassed 12,000 units, but that car too is stumbling, selling just a third in 2013 of its 2012 sales total.
Still, the news isn't all bad, particularly for electric car buyers on a budget--it's now possible to pick up used examples of the unloved Fluence Z.E. for as little as $11,500 in some European countries--cars just a couple of years old.
For that sort of price, it's quite easy to overlook the bland styling and drive.