Under the skin of the Renault Kangoo Be Bop ZE electric car, four rather more significant cars are lurking. Starting from 2011, Renault plans to introduce a range of at least four electric vehicles, all of which will share the drivetrain powering this concept car, which we tested on public roads near Paris. There will be a Kangoo van and a Megane saloon first, followed in 2012 by an electric Clio and a bespoke, electric-only two-seat city car, and possibly a passenger Kangoo too.
Renault says you’ll be able to buy one for the price of an equivalent top-end diesel – though you’ll need to lease the battery separately – and that it will make a profit on them.
So is the affordable, practical electric car finally about to arrive?
Judging by this concept, it’s certainly getting closer. The range from the 250kg lithium-ion battery pack is just 60 miles now, but Renault promises 100 miles by 2011. While it’s true that this covers the average daily needs of the vast majority of drivers, it’s also true that the vast majority of us occasionally need to drive much further in a day, so for now, these will remain second cars for most of us.
Charge time is eight hours with a standard domestic power supply, or 4 hours with a 32A supply, and Renault is developing fast-charge stations for office and public car parks which can give an 80% charge in 30 minutes, or 20 miles’ of juice in five minutes.
It’s also working on a fully-automated fast-swap battery system, in which you drive into something that looks like a car wash and have your depleted battery exchanged for a fresh one in three minutes. The batteries sit in the floor so load space isn’t affected.
What about cost? Bet these electric Renaults are pricey…
To make it affordable, you’ll buy or lease your electric Renault for the price of a top-end diesel. You’ll lease the batteries under a separate deal, likely to be upwards of £100 per month, though this includes the cost of replacement when the battery reaches the end of its life. But even when you include this in your running costs, Renault claims the low price of electricity and high price of petrol and diesel means you’ll make a worthwhile saving if you’re doing over 8000 miles per year.
The high-mileage drivers who would really benefit will be hamstrung by the cars’ limited range, and many of the low-mileage urban drivers Renault is targeting might not get to this break-even point, but for a significant number of drivers in between, electric cars ought to make both economic and environmental sense.
>> Click ‘Next’ to see how Renault’s electric car drives on the road
But will we want to drive an electric car by Renault?
Oh yes: 140lb ft of torque from standstill and a 12,000rpm redline sound impressive; 60bhp moving a 1600kg car less so. Top speed is 80mph, and Renault doesn’t own up to a 0-60mph time, but we’d guess at 15 seconds.
Although the Be Bop ZE concept is far from fast, it shares the fabulous, eerie refinement of other properly engineered electric cars - you simply get your kicks in other ways.
It doesn’t feel so slow that you’re left exposed in traffic, and it will be quicker in production. The single-speed transmission makes for seamless, stress-free progress and the appreciable but predictable engine-braking effect as you come off the throttle and the motor turns into a generator means you seldom need to touch the brakes.
Electric cars aren’t for everyone – yet. But this latest concept from Renault shows that it’s deadly serious about having practical, affordable EVs on sale very soon. A major shift is about to happen in automotive engineering, and we think you’re going to like the results.