FRANKFURT 2009: Renault's electric four

FRANKFURT 2009: Renault's electric four

While 'electric' was the buzz word of the show and every major manufacturer had an electric or hybrid vehicle front and centre, Renault's road-ready ZE (for zero emissions), foursome was easily the most impressive.

Particularly impressive was Renault's demonstration of its battery swap technology. All four cars have their battery packs positioned so a swap for a fresh unit (or when you want to upgrade to the latest-gen battery tech) takes under five minutes with a specially developed, automated hoist system.

While there was no confirmation that Australia will see any of them (particularly since our mostly coal-fired power grid largely defeats the purpose of a zero emissions vehicle), a Renault engineer confirmed all four vehicles will be built in left- and right-hand drive and all markets are under consideration.

Twizy ZE
Easily the wildest of the four, the Twizy is a 1+1 electric city runabout that, incredibly, Renault says will be in production virtually unchanged in 2011. At just 2.3-metres long, the driver sits in front of the passenger and, no, it doesn't have any doors and nor will it in production. The rear-drive Twizy is, like all four of Renault's conceps, powered by an electric motor running on lithium-ion batteries. The batteries live under the feet of the occupants and the electric motor is good for 15kW and has a range of 100km.

ZOE ZE
Running the Twizy close in the 'out there' stakes was the ZOE concept. Also due in 2011, it's very much a concept car (so don't expect the suicide and scissor doors to reach production), but the ZOE does preview Renault's take on a Clio-sized electric hatch. The rear-drive concept is powered by a 70kW electric motor good for 141km/h, says Renault, and can travel up to 160km/h before needing to be plugged into the wall for a recharge. And it is a French car remember, so a new climate control system was developed with cosmetics company L'Oreal which "sprays essential oils" into the cabin and can rehydrate the air to prevent skin from drying out. Ah, the French, they're just like a croissant sometimes - flaky and a little bit gay.

Fluence ZE
This one is a closer to reality. Based on the recently revealed, petrol and diesel-powered Fluence sedan that goes on sale in Europe next year, this five seater runs the same 70kW electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack as the ZOE and has the same 160km quoted range. Solar cells on the roof help recharge the battery and take some of the load off the alternator and air-con system.

Kangoo ZE
Here's one for the eco-conscience tradies... Based on the current Kangoo light commercial vehicle, the electric version again uses the same 70kW motor and battery pack and is due for production in 2011. The Kangoo ZE is packed with plenty of tech that won't reach showrooms, however. Like the double-layer body work that cats with the same principle as a thermos to regulate temperature inside the car and solar panels mounted into the roof.

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