There are plenty of places you can read detailed reports about the technical intricacies of the newly launched Renault Zoe, here's a good one.
I’m not going to write a review as such, more my opinion of what this new car might represent.
Over the last 3 years or so an increasing number of large car manufacturers have seen the writing on the wall and started developing new electric cars, the best known being the Tesla Model S and the Nissan Leaf.
I pick those two because you can’t buy a Tesla Model S ‘V8 petrol’ or a Nissan Leaf ‘turbo diesel.’ They have been designed and built as electric cars, not converted from existing models. As other manufacturers see these vehicles they start to get anxious, now BMW, VW, Ford, Toyota and many others are about to launch battery electric vehicles.
The next of these to appear is the Renault Zoe, (available from 7th June) although Renault have launched no less than 4 new electric cars in the last year I think the Zoe is the most important.
Last year they launched the Twizy, although brilliant isn’t really a car, it’s a quadricycle that is absurdly fun to drive (if it’s not freezing cold.) The other two are essentially conversions of existing vehicles, the Kangoo, a local delivery van that’s easier to use, quieter and cheaper to run than a clunking old diesel sitting in a traffic jam all day, and the Fluence, a large saloon car and I have to say my least favourite of the range.
The Renault Zoe uses many of the components found in the Renault Clio but it’s been completely re-thought from the tyres up. It’s very easy to drive, goes a long way on one charge, is absurdly cheap to fuel and of course it can use electricity from a wide variety of sources. (This is an important point, unlike a fossil burner you CAN charge an electric car from coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind or solar, I’m just saying)
However, the thing that will mark it out is it’s not absurdly expensive to buy.
(£13,995 after a £5,000 UK Government Plug-in Car Grant) So how did Renault manage to produce an electric car for pretty much the same price as a similarly fitted out petrol one?
The answer is the battery, when you buy this car, you don’t buy the battery. You lease the battery and how much your lease costs depends on how far you drive each year.
If you drive 7,500 miles a year you’ll be paying £70 a month on a 36 month rental agreement. Push that to 12,000 miles a year and the rental goes up to £93 a month.
Every time I mention this to people some serious head scratching starts and they grab their phones and open the calculator app. ‘Hang on a minute, that’s a bit steep isn’t it. £93 a month is £1,116 a year, that’s enough to buy 183 gallons of petrol!’
Indeed, and 180 gallons of petrol is enough to drive a Renault Clio (same size car, similar purchase price etc) just under 10,000 miles. Not 12,000 miles but close.
So with the Zoe you rent the battery, but then you’ve got the cost of the electricity.
To drive 12,000 miles in the Zoe, the electricity will cost you about £170, less if you charge at night and less if you use a lot of public charging which is currently free.
So to clarify once again, 12,000 miles in a Renault Zoe electric, I’ll be generous, £1,250, (battery rental plus electricity) and 12,000 miles in a Renault Clio is about £1,930 in fuel. I’m being very generous because I’m not including road tax. On the Zoe, it’s free as in all pure electric cars, I’m not including servicing, no need for oil change, replacement oil filters or any number of the other things our lovely old ICE engines need to keep them going. Plus I’m not including real world MPG which is always 20-30% lower than advertised. Drive a small internal combustion car on a cold morning with the heater on up a slight hill and your MPG drops to SUV levels. Oh yes, the same as an electric car’s reduced range in the winter, who’d-a-thunk-it.
But that’s not all, the battery rental agreement gives owners a preferential rental deal to use conventionally fuelled cars for long journeys. They will deliver the car any time of the day or night meaning it could easily work for a one car household.
It’s very hard to guess how much a Renault Zoe would cost if you could buy the battery and the car at the outset, judging by other electric cars it would certainly be over £20,000, but the battery rental model puts a whole new spin on the debate.
You have to remember this is being written from the perspective of someone who’s driven battery electric cars for over 40,000 miles. The Nissan Leaf I’m currently driving has done 26,000 miles and I haven’t noticed one scintilla of battery depreciation. True, by the time it gets to 75,000 miles or even 100,000 miles I may be massively depressed but I somehow doubt it.
The cost in electricity to drive that 26,000 miles is around £400, the cost to drive an equivalent car, say a VW Golf bluemotion the same distance is around £2,800 so that’s a saving of £2,400. Multiply that by 4 to give 100,000 miles and you save £9,600 on petrol.
I really liked the Renault Zoe, it’s an excellent car to drive and would be more than adequate for 90% of car journeys, as are all other electric cars. My only concern is that the subtext of the battery rental option is Renault sort of saying; ‘We’re very confident about this car, it has a 5 star NCAP rating and wonderful handling, brilliant on board electronics and state of the art accessories, don’t worry about the batteries, they might fail, they might break, they might do all the things Big Jezza has suggested so we’ll look after them.’
I hope I’m wrong, I hope lots of people take the leap and buy this car, find the battery lease model is brilliant an I end up looking like a fool. I’m okay with that, I’m very used to it.