Four of Europe's six mass-market carmakers have long sold cars in North America.

The exceptions, for a quarter of a century, have been the two French makers: PSA Peugeot Citroën and Renault.

Now it appears that Renault may be considering a return to the continent, using its Twizy low-speed electric car--and doing it via North America's largest French-speaking region.

DON'T MISS: Renault Twizy Electric Minicar First Drive Report: Video (Apr 2012)

That would be the Canadian province of Québec, where a Twizy will appear at the 2015 Québec City International Auto Show when it opens to the public on Tuesday.

According to Le Soleil (published online by, the display indicates a possible return of the French brand to North  America.

Renault's Emmanuelle Desbrosse, who runs the company's electric-vehicle unit, confirmed to Le Soleil by e-mail that it had submitted the Twizy for approval to Transport Canada, in response to what she termed many requests.

The company would offer both the two-seat version--with its seats in tandem--and the one-seat version for deliveries, known as the Twizy Cargo.

Renault Twizy Cargo electric van

Renault Twizy Cargo electric van

A second Renault electric vehicle, the Kangoo ZE small van, was not designed to "Federalize," or meet North American safety standards, said Daniel Bédard, an assistant director of automotive advisory services in the Québec office of the Canadian Auto Association.

But as a low-speed or neighborhood electric vehicle, the Renault Twizy has a far lower bar to clear if Renault finds or sets up a distributor.

Such vehicles need little more than lights, wipers, brakes, and seat belts to be legal, and many are permitted to operate on city streets in various towns, states, and provinces.

Laws vary by region, however, presenting a complicated regulatory environment in which the cars are legal to use on public roads in some areas, but not in others.

ALSO SEE: Buying Electric Cars: Québec Launches Carrot-And-Stick Program

Renault's last North American foray ended when it sold its entire U.S. operation--the former AMC--to Chrysler in 1987.

All Renault-branded cars were subsequently renamed Eagle (that brand too ultimately vanished in 1998).

The other French automaker, PSA Peugeot Citroën, departed soon after, confirming its withdrawal from the North American market in 1991. 

But PSA is rumored to be mulling a return to the large and lucrative North American market, using its chic and stylish new line of upscale Citroën DS models.

Citroen DS5 Hybrid

Citroen DS5 Hybrid

Meanwhile, Carlos Ghosn, who is CEO of the Renault Nissan Alliance, has steadfastly ruled out a return of Renault to North America--in statements made in 2009 and again in 2012.

Renault Twizy in New York City. Photos: Renault Official on Flickr

Renault Twizy in New York City. Photos: Renault Official on Flickr

For a while, Renault vehicles were being considered to return as Mitsubishi sedans, which were to have been built in South Korea by Samsung and sold globally by Mitsubishi to replace its own aging and uncompetitive lineup.

That plan collapsed last year after currency fluctuations made the whole project unprofitable.

Strategy for electrifying transportation, Province of Quebec, Oct 2013

Strategy for electrifying transportation, Province of Quebec, Oct 2013

It's hard to imagine that the Twizy would get much traction--especially as an open-air car in a region that's extremely cold for several months a year.

Despite its frigid seasons, however, Québec offers an abundance of carbon-neutral hydroelectric electricity.

And the province intends to become a world leader in electrifying its transportation.

The question becomes whether the huge expense of launching a new brand (tens to hundreds of millions of dollars) can be justified by sales high enough to produce a payback.

That's especially tough for a mass-market brand, which must grow amidst brutal price competition at the low end of the market.

Nissan Micra now available in Canada

Nissan Micra now available in Canada

Indeed, based on European pricing, the Twizy might not cost much less than the four-seat Nissan Micra hatchback.

That minicar carries a starting price of C$9,998, making it the least expensive vehicle on sale in Canada.

Still, the Twizy is the only low-speed electric vehicle designed and engineered by a major global automaker.

The Québec market may soon tell us if that's enough for success.

[hat tip: Matthew Klippenstein via Simon-Pierre Rioux and Daniel Bédard]


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