Renault does not need an introduction. It started working towards electric mobility in earnest over two decades ago. Yep, that is before Tesla was founded. At the gatherings of the Earth’s mighty, like the famous one in Davos, its CEO was announced as “Mister EV.” Its Zoe model was the best selling BEV in Europe, with just over 100,000 vehicles delivered in 2020.
Alas, those glory days are over. New management has tried to go the way of PHEVs at the same time that the market is saying goodbye to this technology. They are dabbling in hydrogen fuel cell technology as a possible alternative for battery electrics. The only part of transport where there is a theoretical niche for HFCEV powertrains, heavy trucking, was long ago sold to Volvo.
The successor for the aging Zoe is expected in 2024, a retro model that hopefully will receive a kind reception in Renault’s homeland of France. The Twingo ZE is a fun-to-drive little city car. It suffers from a battery that is too small and no DC fast charging, making it only fit for urban use. Upgrading it with a bigger battery and bettery charging system from cousin Dacia Spring could double or triple sales.
Birth of the BEV
Renault and Alliance partners Nissan and Mitsubishi developed a new dedicated battery electric vehicle (BEV) platform for the C-/D-segment. This CMF-EV modular toolkit is expected to be the platform for at least 15 models the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance is bringing to market later in this decade. The first two models are the Renault Megane E-Tech fully electric and Nissan Ariya.
Renault did call its hybrid and plug-in hybrid models E-Tech models and the fully electric models Z.E. or Zero Emission models. Now the moniker E-Tech is used for all “electrified” models. It is a way of confusing the customers. It’s probably from a marketing drone thinking it can sell one version on the reputation of another version, not realizing that people like to know what they are buying, and that confusing your customers is never good for sales.
The CMF-EV toolkit contains two battery modules, one with a 63kWh battery and one with a 87kWh battery. Those are the batteries you can find in the Ariya. The Renault marketing whizz-kids decided that for Europe, batteries of 40kWh and 60kWh would be good enough.
They even had the bright idea of offering the 40kWh version without DC fast charging. This configuration was not welcome in most (all?) countries.
The Renault engineers have demonstrated that they do know what it is to build an electric vehicle. On many aspects, they worked together with the Renault F1 team. It seems that everything that was not under control of the marketing department is excellent.
It was second in last year’s European Car of the Year competition, right between the Kia and Hyundai new models. It scored on all the metrics that old school car journalists value. The public is less impressed by it. The small battery and weak motor are not what people look for in C-segment cars. Many competitors have batteries that are 40%+ bigger.
- Battery — 40/60kWh, with about 158/208 miles of range.
- Motor — 96/160kW and 250/300Nm, front-wheel drive.
- Charging — 90/150kW DC and 22kW AC.
- Safety — Euro NCAP ***** (5 stars)
- Length * Width * Height — 165.4” * 73.2” * 59.3”
There is some confusion about the size of the battery. There is a nominal and a usable size with most batteries. The difference is mostly 5% to 10%. Renault uses the same number for both. EV-Database thinks it is 55kWh for the bigger battery. If the Megane is as efficient as claimed, the battery size is 55kWh.
Adaptive cruise control, extended parking assist, and a heat pump are all options, some only available on the higher trim levels. Most of the competition have some or all of these as standard, at least in the higher trim levels.
It is a driver’s car. That is what the critics agree on. The influence of the F1 experts and the choice to go for a car as close as possible to an ICE car results in a light and easy-to-drive car. But it sacrifices range.
Being used to my Zoe, the 10-year-older, yet smaller, sister of the Megane, I did not notice much difference in driving experience. That is sad.
In my driving style, the weight of the car is not very important, the suppleness is. The Mercedes EQS and the Volvo C40 were clearly better driving machines, as was the MG5. But then again, I am not a car journalist. Driving cars is just not exciting to me. Relaxed traveling is what I like.
Riding bikes — now, that is different. On two wheels, going through a corner, riding along a river dyke without a straight stretch longer than 10 meters — that is fun. That is like dancing on two wheels. You have to find the rhythm that is right for the road and your speed. But alas, I am too old for that kind of fun.
Infotainment & Driving Assist
Renault and Nissan were both developing their own infotainment and driving assist systems. Merging two different systems is about the worst you can do in IT development. Discarding one and choosing the other was a non-starter after the civil war between the parties. There is now an armistice, and peace looks attainable.
They did the sensible thing, discarding both systems and proceeding with a ready-made system from a software company. Google was the lucky one chosen to sell its suite of automotive systems to the Alliance. That makes my review of the infotainment system very easy. Most people know more about Google functionality than I do.
The driving assist systems are top notch. But you have to pay extra for them. You have to spend at least €3,000 on top of the list price. For a nice color or flashy rims, €5,000 is in sight.
As one of the original pioneers of electric driving, Renault did not have to look to Tesla. It had its own experience and perfect relations with a host of seasoned car journalists. But those journalists do not criticize the hand that feeds them. When Tesla showed its Model 3 to the public, the public was existing and future Tesla drivers. Before the night was over, it was clear that the trunk was not easily accessible. The promise to right this wrong was made within a few days. The trunk of the Megane is only practically accessible for weight lifters. The threshold is too high. Older people and smaller females will have trouble getting their groceries or luggage in and out.
Do not try to go on holiday with this car. It doesn’t have the range it needs. Even with the fast charging, it will be hopping from charging station to charging station. Its efficiency is by virtue of its low mass. Fully loaded, you lose that advantage, but you are stuck with the tiny battery.
When trying to make a fully electric vehicle that is just like a fossil fuel vehicle, there is the risk of ending up with the worst of both worlds. Renault should forget about its F1 expertise, and the joy of driving an Alpine two-seat sports car. Stop listening to journalists that drive for fun. Most customers are looking for a place to survive a few hours of daily traffic jams and reach a vacation destination without the kids killing each other.
I was one of the first to drive the original Megane Scénic. I have had three of them. I loved my Twingo, just like my wife loved hers and my parents-in-law loved theirs. I am still glad to drive my Zoe (the three-year anniversary was two days ago) and expect to do so for another two years. I am not a complete Renaultofile (Renault lover), but I like it a lot more than BMW, Audi, or Toyota. Just to name a few uninteresting brands.
I really do not understand what Renault is doing at the moment. The sales numbers and market signals should be a very strong incentive to change the current policy of pleasing journalists and regulators but ignoring customers.
Here are some more photos of the Renault Megane E-Tech:
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