Renault goes electric

  • 22-Sep-2009 09:38 EDT
Ffurt9-09Renault Twizzy.jpg

A concept now, Renault's Twizy electric city car is set for production.

“The time is right for zero emissions. Our world is facing an environmental challenge and all of us that produce—and use—cars need to be part of that solution. Car use accounts for 12-14% of total CO2 emissions; we need to start taking action now to reduce it.”

With those words, Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and Chief Executive of Renault and of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, revealed four electric concept vehicles at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, each of which he says will make it to production within the next four years. “Our electric vehicles are a breakthrough because they are designed to be mass marketed. Our cars’ purchase price and utilization costs will be similar or better than comparable diesel vehicles in Europe.”

The most extraordinary of these is the four-wheel Twizy all-electric ZE (zero emissions) concept that is halfway between a scooter and a regular car. “It brings a fresh approach to urban mobility, its distinctive layout (two seats in tandem) combining advantages of both two- and four-wheel vehicles, offering maximum agility with stability," said Ghosn. "It accelerates like a motorcycle and is easy to park and drive in the city. We will launch the production version in the second half of 2011.”

Power is provided by a 15-kW electric motor producing 70 N·m (52 lb·ft) of torque. Allied to a lithium-ion battery—placed beneath the seats and with a recharge time of 3.5 h from a 220-V 10-A or 16-A domestic socket—its range is about 100 km (62 mi) and top speed is 75 km/h (47 mph). The Twizy is 2303 mm (90.7 in) long, 1132 mm (44.6 in) wide, and 1476 mm (58.1 in) tall, with a wheelbase of 1695 mm (66.7 in) and an unladen mass of 420 kg (926 lb). The turning circle is about 3 m (9.8 ft).

The concept's bodywork is partly open at the sides, but a production version may be more enclosed. The cockpit is minimalist, with driver displays located at eye level at the base of the windshield and grouped in honeycomb shaped clusters. Remaining battery range is shown by a lotus flower design on the dashboard, the petals of which close progressively as range diminishes.

Rear-seat accessibility has been designed to be easy; the seatback is attached to the Twizy’s roof and the lower part of the height-adjustable seat pivots. The seat cushion can be used as a “booster” for a child. Luggage space is 50 L (1.77 ft³) or 60 L (2.12 ft³) when the cushion is in booster mode. Other stowage space adds a further 3 L (0.1 ft³).

The car has a deformable structure, and lateral bars provide protection from side impact. The driver gets a four-point safety harness, the rear occupant a three-point. There are driver and two lateral airbags. An LED exterior lighting system can be reconfigured to show the driver’s mood!

The next ZEV introduced by Ghosn was the all-electric ZOE, designed to be the second car in a household. A compact and flexible vehicle with four seats and an overall length of 4.1 m (13.5 ft), its unladen mass is 1400 kg (3086 lb). “ZOE will be a core product in our future electric vehicle lineup,” said Ghosn. “It will be positioned at the heart of the European market.” The car will be launched in mid-2012.

Like the Twizy, the ZOE concept is understood to bear a close general resemblance to the production version. Its electric motor produces 70 kW and 226 N·m (167 lb·ft). The concept has huge 21-in wheels and a retractable spoiler that deploys at 90 km/h (56 mph). Cd is 0.25, top speed is 140 km/h (87 mph), and maximum range is 160 km (99 mi). It is fitted with an LED brake light and a further brake light in the sharkfin roof aerial.

Energy replacement is in three possible phases: a standard charge taking four to eight hours, a quick charge of as little as 20 minutes, or a “quick drop” battery exchange, taking three minutes.

A polyurethane gel protects the lights and vulnerable components from small knocks. Air ducts on the body conduct air to cool the battery. Instead of large exterior mirrors, the car has small profiled cameras. The concept has front scissor-action doors, but these are unlikely to be used for the production version. The rear doors double as openings for the trunk.

The backs of the front seats are attached to the roof. The dashboard is covered with an intelligent mineral-based membrane for touchscreen control. A thin-film transistor screen is housed in a glass bubble; an avatar presents information.

The climate control functions include “hydrating,” “detox” (it has a toxicity sensor that shuts off the air vents if necessary), and an “active scent function,” said to provide something mellow at the end of the working day or stimulating for added concentration at night. The system has been developed in association with Biotherm, the skin biology brand of L’Oréal’s Luxury Products Division.

Renault’s third ZEV concept is the Fluence, a 4.8 m (15.7 ft) long, four-door sedan with a 160-km range, which will be in production by 2011 with first sales in Israel in partnership with Better Place. And finally there is the Kangoo ZE concept based on the production model, which also has a 160-km range.

Carlos Ghosn said that, two years ago, the Renault-Nissan Alliance had announced its intention of being the global leader in ZEVs. The Nissan Leaf was revealed in August and that is now joined by the four models at Frankfurt. Together with Nissan, Renault will be investing more than €4 billion and involving some 2000 employees on ZEV development.

Although a standard charge on a regular power socket would allow the Twizy’s battery to be recharged in 4 h or less, the three other Renault models will need 8 h, but fast charge would provide 80% recharge in 30 min. The battery switch (replacement) system, which Renault calls Quickdrop, would provide an alternative to recharging. Renault is developing a smart navigation system to identify the nearest recharging points for a vehicle.

Ghosn also stated that the Alliance is setting up a network of global partnerships with national, state, and local governments as well as power companies to provide the financial conditions and infrastructure to make zero emissions affordable and practical.

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