A CleanTechnica delegation recently visited a super-secret Renault presentation. It was the press presentation of the soon-to-arrive Renault Twingo ZE. This is Renault’s second mass market fully electric passenger vehicle. Renault has also launched the low-volume Renault Twizy, Fluence ZE, Kangoo ZE, Master ZE, SM3 ZE, and Renault city K-ZE electric vehicles.
The Twingo Z.E. will be tasked with helping Renault survive the coming transition of the automotive market to fully electric vehicles. This is Renault’s most important release of this year.
The public presentation was supposed to be in Geneva next week. Test drives for the press are planned in the autumn and available to the public as a 2021 model year just before or after New Year.
More about the next savior of Renault is further down in this article. First, I’d like to introduce the surreal world of carmakers and their dedicated press. The most important Renault presentation, the new and long awaited Twingo ZE, was visited by a handful of reporters. After a thorough introduction of the technology and market positioning, there were hardly any questions. More important was the next room with the lunch and a backdrop of new electrified models with a tail pipe. At least these were real cars. Or perhaps it was the excellent finger food that woke up the members of the press. It could also be that these models were bigger (= more important) and familiar. The discussions were a lot more lively. The group also looked bigger.
The pièce de résistance of this press day was the third presentation. Renault was showing a far-out concept car, the type Renault is famous for. It was speculation about what the public could like and the ways cars could be used a decade into the future, modeled into something resembling a transport medium. The assembled press was enthusiast. Some were even giddy with anticipation. At the previous presentations, the cars were in the limelight, ready for inspection. The concept, however, was below a tarp, waiting for its unveiling.
The group was perhaps twice the size of the group that visited the Twingo ZE presentation. The Renault representatives were more numerous and more important. It was a festival for the carmakers and their press groupies.
The auto show in Geneva is perhaps the most important show in Europe. It is also the most decadent. Half the stands show vehicles in the price range above a Rolls-Royce. On the stands of the regular carmakers there are many world and European premieres, accompanied by concept cars and show models. The public comes to salivate over cars it will never be able to afford. It is a big contrast with more mundane auto shows, like the one in Brussels, which is avoided by the press and visited by half a million carbuyers.
These types of far-out concept cars on the floor of Geneva are only for the small inner circle of auto aficionados. The general public could not care less. To them, they are the equivalent of the woman with the beard or the two-headed goat at the carnival. The designers say they are looking for the public’s opinion on their ideas about the future. But perhaps they secretly know that these exhibits of technical brilliance and sci-fi fantasies are only for the pleasure of themselves and their little coterie in the press.
After the party, at last, the press will write dutifully, and a bit bored, about the new models that are of interest to the car-buying public and the carmakers sales department. When pressed by their editors, they are even willing to write about the aberrations without engines — this new fad of battery electric vehicles.
Back to what is important to CleanTechnica readers.
The Twingo Z.E. is a new version of an already 6 year old fossil fuel model, the Twingo 3. It was designed in collaboration with Daimler to make a car with two powertrains — a traditional gasoline one and one with the battery in the elevated hollow floor. The engine/motor was placed below the trunk in the back. The Daimler model became the Smart Forfour. Renault made it into the 2014 Twingo 3.
Due to higher battery prices than expected when design started in 2010, only the gasoline version was produced in 2014. Renault waited 6 years for lower battery prices. The Smart got its electric version after three years and has fully shed its gasoline drivetrain this year.
Renault is not ready to drop the internal combustion engine in the Twingo. It is too important as a small budget model in the A-segment. The battery prices are still too high for a full-fledged model in the B-segment, as demonstrated by the ZOE. This makes prices that are too high combined with batteries that are too small the only choice for the carmakers.
These models are positioned as city cars, perfect for shopping or bringing the kids to school. That’s very attractive for households with two or more cars. In larger metropolitan areas, around 40% of cars never leave the city. With an average use of 40km a day for commuting and shopping, and no long road trips, this market segment is ideal for a small and agile car.
The parking lots of retirement homes are the places where many new A-segment cars can be found. I parked my Twingo in one for nearly 8 years. But the Twingo Z.E. is aimed in form and color palette at a young public, a public that does not buy new cars. And when you are young and single, or with a partner, and ready to buy your first new car; small is acceptable, but limited usability is mostly not. Or is it for those of us who are entering our second childhood?
The biggest difference with the gasoline Twingo on the outside and inside is the instrument panel adjusted for electric driving. A big easy-link touchscreen and the shifter for reverse, neutral, and the 4 different drive modes from coasting to full one-pedal driving are the most notable.
The real difference is revealed when you start driving. It is not a Tesla, but in those European cities with their narrow streets this Calimero on four wheels will be more fun to drive.
With its 22kWh battery and only level 2 charging at 20kW, this is not a car to use for vacations or to visit relatives and friends out of town. That Renault no longer postpones the introduction is likely due to the competition from Volkswagen Group as well as the European Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandate.
If the Zoe is any indication, with a battery twice the size Renault is offering now, this new smaller model should be perfect for trips up to 200 km, even a bit more like 350 km with decent CCS DC charging at 70 kW. Because the battery is only using half the space in the floor, a 44 kWh version can be made easily. Upgrading to 55 kWh batteries that have a slightly higher density should be possible in three years. With this small battery, the new Twingo ZE is only fit for large metropolitan areas like Paris (FR), London (UK), Rhine-Ruhr (DE), and Randstad (NL).
I know, I always complain about the size of the battery. A prudent EV driver uses only the part between 10% and 80% of the battery. That leaves just 70% of the inflated WLTP numbers of 250 km city driving (143 miles EPA?) or 180 km full combined cycle (102 miles EPA?). When you are in a bit of a hurry on a fresh winter day, it is less than 100 km on the highway. Now 70% of those figures would be 175 km, 126 km, and 70 km, respectively.
My biggest gripe with this release is the planned start of deliveries. I remember when the ZOE got a battery upgrade from 20 kWh to 40 kWh. The public was encouraged to go to the dealer the next day to order. Production was starting.
This car should be available to order on March 3, the day it was supposed to be shown at the Geneva Motor Show (now canceled). Deliveries should be starting in the spring. That would be great for the transition, for complying with the CAFE mandate, and for Renault’s bottom line. For the environment, the revenue is even greater. Unlike the plug-in hybrids that are brilliant in WLTP-estimated CO2 production but as dirty as any other fossil fuel vehicle when not charged, a fully electric car is always 0 grams of CO2 per kilometer.
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