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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Renault Previews The Zoe Electric Car [video]

The fully electric Zoe is a Clio-sized supermini with a range of up to 100 miles. It’s still in the concept stages, but it will definitely go into production and you’ll be able to buy one in mid-2012. Better still, the final car won’t lose much of this one’s va-va-voom, and it’ll cost about the same as a mid-spec Ford Fiesta. Who said electric cars couldn’t be desirable? Not us!

The design

The Zoe’s teardrop profile is dominated by what’s probably best described as its ‘friendly’ face. The sweeping headlights blend seamlessly into the grille, and the nose looks unusually clean because fewer air intakes are needed than on a petrol or diesel car. ‘It’s the first time we’ve used this new front end on a car that’s going into production, and we’re getting some great feedback’, says Axel Breun, Renault’s design director of concept and show cars. ‘It proves Renault is getting back to its best at building emotive cars.’

Remember the previous-shape Mégane? Well, the Zoe is vaguely similar round the back, albeit curvier and more fluid.

The concept is 90% ready for production, and Renault describes it as an ‘exaggerated’ version of the Zoe you’ll be able to buy in 18 months. The final car – which will be unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in September – will be 5-7cm shorter and narrower, but Renault assures us the basic look will be left alone.

That’s not too tricky a promise to keep, because this isn’t an outlandish concept with gull-wing doors. It’s essentially a normal-looking supermini, which is something Renault sees as very important. It knows a big chunk of the car-buying public already has reservations about buying an electric car, and doesn’t want people to have to get their heads around something that looks like an iPod on wheels.

There are some futuristic features on this concept, but most will make way for more humdrum alternatives. You’ll notice there are no door handles, for example. The door pops open when you simply stroke a metal square that’s surrounded by squiggles of light. Very clever, but expensive and not practical. Conventional door handles will be the order of the day on the final production car.

The same goes for the lights. The LED units on the concept car have a halo around them, which flashes orange when you’re indicating and glows blue when you’re not. The final car may have LED daytime running lights, but the head- and tail-lights will be conventional.

Other changes?

Other minor exterior changes will include larger door mirrors – to meet legislation – and smaller wheels. The 19-inch alloys fitted to the concept look great, but 17-inch wheels are more practical.

The Zoe will be near enough identical in size to the current Clio after the miniaturisation process its about to undergo, but Axel Breun says it doesn’t offer a preview of Renault’s next supermini: ‘The next Clio will obviously share one or two design features with the Zoe – such as this new front end – but it will be very different overall,’ he says.

Renault is keen for a more cohesive look across its range, though. Simon Luque, deputy programme director of Zoe, says: ‘We want anyone who sees one of our cars to immediately know it’s a Renault, but we don’t want to fall into the trap of, say, Audi where you have to study every model carefully to work out if you’re looking at an A4, A6, or an A8.’

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