Renault Fluence Z E Review Business Line

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Renault Electric Cars

Renault Fluence Z.E. Review

Electric vehicles, which are increasingly becoming a rage around the world today, are yet to make a splash in India. They are not new here though. We have had the Reva and then there have been a few concepts showcased at Auto Expos.

The scenario is not dramatically different even around the world if you consider the level of penetration that electrics have had compared to conventional fuel-driven vehicles.

But hybrids and now, increasingly, full-electric vehicles have captured the imagination of buyers in the … automotive markets. If you ignore the compulsions that automobile manufacturers themselves might have, such as meeting more stringent emissions targets, there is still good reason why electrics are fast becoming popular.

The case for electrics

With the spurt in oil prices that we have, it is a no-brainer that electrics can help the buyer save by offering the lowest per kilometre operating cost amongst all types of vehicles currently available fossil fuel, hybrids and full-electrics. That will be true even in the markets with the most expensive electricity tariffs.

But, the dynamics of the electric vehicles market is governed by many more restrictions and metrics and they are the reasons why they haven’t caught on in India. For one, electrics, since they run on stored battery power, continue to be limited by their operating range. The solution is not as simple as doubling the number of batteries, because the increase in weight means that there will only be a disproportionately lower increase in range.

Adding battery power will also make the vehicle more expensive to own and maintain, and there will also be an increase in charging time making it more inconvenient. The extra weight will also drag down the car’s top speeds and installing a more powerful electric motor will consume more battery power and in turn further reduce the operating range.

There have also been other problems that have restricted full electrics from becoming mainstream vehicles in the past. One such was the erratic, inconsistent discharge of the battery pack and the problem of over-heating during the vehicle’s operation. These issues have been successfully tackled by improving the battery managers and with new programming for ensuring even discharge.

By improving cooling and ventilation systems for the battery pack it can be protected from overheating.

The biggest stumbling block, however, has been public infrastructure the availability of charging infrastructure for extending the range of electrics. Even in … markets, where the typical family has more than two cars, the limited range of electrics has been the reason why they aren’t preferred. Charging stations along the major road networks and transit points can positively impact the acceptance levels for electrics.

Renault electrics

Amongst the automobile companies that are putting their money on electrics is the Renault-Nissan alliance. While alliance partner Nissan’s full-electric car the Leaf has been a success, Renault too has big plans for going down that road. Last month, Renault invited motoring journalists from around the world to Cascais in Portugal to drive the new Fluence Z.E. and the Kangoo Z.E.

Renault has actively collaborated with governments in cities in 12 countries in Europe and a few others globally for developing the infrastructure required for supporting these electrics. Renault will soon have two more electrics in the Twizy and the ZOE, but we were in Portugal to test drive the current Z.E.s (short for Zero Emission).

Obviously, I was most interested in testing the Fluence Z.E. a vehicle that we have all become familiar with.

In terms of overall design, the Fluence Z.E. is very much like the Fluence we have here in India. At least from the front, the lines are all very similar, with some minor variation to the headlamp combination and the Renault logo just above the bonnet grille is in blue tinted metal. The metallic light blue paint job is the other distinguishing element in the Fluence Z.E. if the special ‘Energie Blue’ colour is chosen from the available palette.

The bonnet grille is also a different design in the Fluence Z.E.

There is no fuel filler cap, instead at the driver’s side, just below the A-pillar on the body side panel is the battery charging slot cover. The rear of the Fluence Z.E. has been changed considerably compared to the fossil fuel variants. Elongated and wrapped around triangular tail lamps with LEDs and a bluish-tinted combination actually give the Fluence Z.E. a more attractive backside.

The all-electric version of this popular French sedan has been stretched by over five inches, compared to the internal combustion engine versions, to enable it to accommodate the battery pack behind the rear seat. But thanks to the lengthened rear section, boot capacity remains the same as the IC engine version, despite the battery pack taking up space. The Fluence Z.E. also gets a special wheel design that has been conceived to reduce aerodynamic turbulence.


The interior of the Fluence Z.E. is also familiar, but plusher than the Indian spec IC engine version. Comfy seats, premium dashboard bits and a gear shift stick that looks very much like an automatic gearbox lever in the conventional Fluence are the other features. The on-board computer now displays essential electric vehicle information such as instantaneous and average consumption, range and battery charge and discharge on the blue-tinted instrument cluster.

I step into the Fluence and try to crank an imaginary engine by turning the key and there is only an audible beep and a green Go’ sign on the instrument cluster that signals that the car is ready to move. Renault engineers have built a creep function into the Fluence Z.E. so that it behaves like a conventional automatic gearbox when slipped into drive.

I expect the Z.E. to be noise-free, after all there is no IC engine, but it is uncannily quiet in the car, due to the even more efficient sound deadening that Renault engineers have done. The Fluence Z.E sports a synchronous electric motor with a peak power of 70kW the equivalent of 95bhp delivered at 3,000 rpm and a maximum torque of 226Nm. Top speed has been restricted to 130 kmph.

All the usual electric car motor features like regenerative braking and other efficiency capturing techniques are all there.

Renault’s battery stack in the Fluence Z.E. and the Kangoo Z.E. are made with Lithium-ion and are said to be very similar to a bunch of laptop batteries wired together. The best part about the car is that it is comparable to its fossil fuel cousins in terms of its performance and handling. The additional weight from the battery pack has been provided for to retain its on-road dynamics and there is no difference in the focus on safety with six airbags, ABS and electronic stability control being standard.


The … though is in the pricing of the Renault Fluence, which has been matched to the diesel version of the Fluence in the very markets where both are sold. Innovative strategies like leasing the battery pack, instead of making the car buyer pay for it has enabled Renault to make it more affordable and less elitist.

Of course, a chunk of that affordability will also come from Government incentives. This is where the stumbling blocks could be for making cars such as these affordable for Indian buyers too. The debate about incentives for electrics in India will rage on for many years to come.

Buyers though, have matured to a point where they would accept electrics with their limitations and use them accordingly.

We have to admit that the age of the electrics is upon us whether driven by the pressures of the raging oil price inflation or due to the self-motivated need to go green. It is time that the Government consider a public-private partnership to at least allow electrics in controlled groups where setting up the necessary infrastructure will be easier. The prospect of zero emission is too tantalising, and every drop in this polluted ocean of vehicles will count.

(This article was published on December 7, 2011)

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