Electric vehicles of small proportions are beginning to emerge as the theme of this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, and the presentation of a comprehensive range of electric vehicles by Renault, dubbed the Z.E. range, was the clincher. Perhaps more important, was Renault’s commitment to begin selling its new Z.E. range at affordable prices in 2010.
From 2011, Renault will progressively roll out four electric vehicles, including two derivatives of internal-combustion vehicles. The first will be the electric version of Fluence which will initially be available in Israel and Europe. The second will be an electric version of Renault Kangoo Express, intended primarily for fleet and business use. The range of electric vehicles will then expand to cover other segments, with two vehicles that will be designed from scratch as electric vehicles. Derived from the Twizy Z.E. Concept, the third vehicle will target urban mobility. The fourth vehicle, which takes it inspiration from Zoe Z.E. Concept, will go on sale at the beginning of 2012 and will be a multi-purpose daily driver for built-up areas.
These four vehicles will cover a range of uses and customers who will nonetheless all have one thing in common: they will be entering a new era of zero-emission mobility.
Gizmag took a closer look at the range at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Check out the video or read on for more details:
The pick of the four Renault electric concept cars debuting in Frankfurt was the Twizy Z.E. an innovative tandem (passenger behind the driver) urban mobility concept with a 15kW electric motor which develops 70Nm of torque, making it comparable in performance to a 125cc motorbike.
The ultra-compact dimensions of Twizy Z.E. Concept (2.30m in length, and just 1.13m wide) ensure that it is nimble enough for urban use.
With a turning circle of just three metres and a footprint barely larger than that of a scooter, Twizy Z.E. Concept will be easy to park in town. At the wheel, easy, agile handling ensures that it rarely gets stuck in traffic, while the four wheels and low centre of gravity provide excellent stability.
Inside, the priority has been to make Twizy Z.E. Concept easy to drive. Data is easy for the driver to take in, with displays located at eye level at the base of the windscreen, and grouped in honeycomb-shape clusters which are easy to differentiate.
For the passenger, getting into the rear seat is simple: the seatback is attached to the roof of the vehicle, allowing the lower part of the seat to pivot. The rear seat can even be adjusted to suit the passenger's height: the seat cushion can be turned over to become a booster cushion and afford a child better visibility. When the cushion is used as a booster in this way, it frees up a load volume of 10 litres, as a complement to the initial 50 litres, and in complement to the 3 litres provided by the cubbies on either side of the steering wheel.
Twizy Z.E. Concept provides optimum levels of safety. The bodywork doesn't just protect the occupants from poor weather; it is also far more visible in traffic to other road users and effectively constitutes a safety cell. A deformable structure protects occupants in the event of a frontal impact while lateral reinforcement bars provide protection in the case of an impact from the side. The retention systems include a four-point harness for the front seat and a three-point seatbelt at the rear, plus a driver airbag and two lateral airbags.
With its futuristic, pearlescent white bodywork, Twizy Z.E. Concept clearly belongs to a new era of urban mobility. As opposed to a conventional car, the body colour wheel fairings are not spherical but octagonal, and cover the tyres entirely. Along with the pearlescent white and blue hub caps, they form a pleasing, harmonious design in which the wheels can no longer be seen rotating. Instead, the only visible movement is that of the hub caps, so Twizy Z.E. Concept appears to glide gracefully and silently, along the road.
In keeping with this fresh approach to mobility, Twizy Z.E. Concept offers its occupants a new, simple and reassuring environment. The front and rear ends of Twizy Z.E. Concept are equipped with a luminous matrix display, the honeycomb-shaped diodes of which allow the driver to interrelate with his or her immediate surroundings. In addition to serving as headlights and rear lights, these diodes can also produce 'smileys' which change expression as a function of the message the driver wishes to communicate.
Inside, the cabin is brightly lit thanks to the bodywork's extensive glazed surface. The blue and white colour scheme creates a soothing atmosphere which isolates the passengers from the stress of urban activity. Optimizing the vehicle's range is simple and worry-free, with a poetic touch: remaining range is depicted by a lotus flower on the dashboard, with petals that close progressively as the range decreases.
Twizy Z.E. Concept is powered by a 15kW (20hp) electric motor. This develops 70Nm of torque, and combines comfort with responsive performance at all engine speeds. Twizy Z.E. Concept can accelerate at a similar rate to a 125cc bike, and pulls away briskly from standstill. With a top speed of 75kph, Twizy Z.E. Concept will also be in its element in suburban traffic.
The energy available onboard Twizy Z.E. Concept serves just one purpose – mobility. The open chassis calls for neither heating nor climate control, both of which consume a significant amount of energy. This, coupled with the vehicle's low weight (it tips the scales at just 420kg, complete with batteries), contributes directly to Twizy Z.E. Concept's range which can reach 100km.
The lithium-ion batteries for Twizy Z.E. Concept are located beneath the two seats. They are charged by means of an extendible cable located behind the Renault logo at the front. This cable can be plugged into a 220V 10A or 16A domestic socket, and will fully charge the batteries in just three and a half hours.
The second in the range, the larger Zoe Z.E. Concept has a special roof that optimizes the management of the climate control system to ensure extended range, while the ambience inside the cabin can be customized. Over and above its traditional role, the climate control system breaks new ground thanks to its hydrating, 'detox' and active scent functions which combine to enhance the traveling experience. Zoe Z.E. Concept is a compact, versatile daily driver which represents a new way of experiencing mobility thanks to a choice of three battery-charging techniques. The Zoe Z.E. Concept is just 4.10m long and is powered by a 54kW electric motor which develops 226Nm of torque. It is easy to imagine the vehicle making its way silently through traffic in built-up areas. At the rear, a retractable spoiler deploys at speeds in excess of 90kph to make a further contribution to aerodynamic efficiency. The LED-equipped spoiler also serves as a brake light, as does the integrated light in the shark's fin-type aerial on the roof. The exterior design of Zoe Z.E. Concept incorporates technologies aimed at reasserting its 'zero-emission' credentials:
The dashboard contributes to the interior's uncluttered feel. It is covered with an intelligent, mineral- like membrane and the lightest of touches calls up a range of touchscreen controls. The wide TFT (Thin Film Transistor) screen is housed in a glass bubble. This is the central information point for Zoe Z.E. Concept and serves to display navigation data, the charge indicator and remaining range, as well as a pallet of coloured mood lighting options which enable the interior ambiance to be customized.
This mood lighting can also be selected automatically via a sensor in the seat which will tone the lighting to match the colors of the driver's clothes.
Information is presented by an avatar that appears on the TFT screen, creating a link between the driver and the technology thanks to short messages. The avatar can be personalized (male, female, downloadable from the internet), and provides information about traffic conditions, the route and remaining range. It can also indicate the nearest charging points. This way of humanizing the technology makes it more accessible and creates a relationship with the driver to ensure that journeys are as pleasant as possible.
The hands-free keycard can be personalized, too, by fixing a chip to an object of the customer's choosing to enable automatic door locking and ignition.
Finally, the climate control system does much more than simply adjusts the temperature. It also enhances the traveling experience thanks to an innovative triple-function system:
After a journey in Zoe Z.E. Concept, occupants will feel more relaxed, “just like after a spa treatment” according to Renault.
Fluence Z.E. Concept is a statement of Renault's intention to produce a range of zero-emission vehicles that meet the needs of all types of customer. Fluence Z.E. Concept is a genuine family car which demonstrates that attractive styling, comfort and space can go hand in hand with respect for the environment.
Fluence Z.E. Concept is an all-electric car with a range of 160km. The battery can be charged using one of three methods: a standard charge (between four and eight hours), a quick charge (20 minutes) or an immediate solution (three minutes) which takes the form of the exclusive 'Quickdrop' rapid battery exchange system.
The Fluence Z.E. Concept is 4,820mm long, has a wide track of 1,672 mm, and its identity as an electric vehicle is expressed through the graphic treatment of the cooling ducts, the fins of which are reminiscent of heat transfer surfaces, and this theme is echoed in different ways in the design of the headlights and motor cover. The photovoltaic cells located on the panoramic roof, dashboard and rear parcel shelf form a geometric grid pattern which has been carried over to the grille and seat upholstery.
The headlights convey the same impression of softness suggested by the vehicle's overall lines and colour. They are a high-tech feature, too: beneath the 'eyelids' formed by the indicators, the beams of the main headlights are precise and piercing, with the light focused into a single beam by means of a system of prisms.
The vehicle's status-enhancing credentials are further emphasised by the employment of chrome trimming for the belt-line and grille, as well as by its impressive 21-inch wheels. Blue polycarbonate hubcaps seem to slot into the aluminium wheels to create a spiral form which channels the airflow and improves aerodynamic performance. Fluence Z.E. Concept's warmly welcoming and refined interior is based on a combination of flowing forms, the use of soft, supple materials and a mottled ambience. Passengers are comfortably seated in four enveloping seats robed in light leather upholstery. The feet rest on a light blue translucent gel mat, while the brake and accelerator pedals, too, are covered in gel for a greater sense of comfort.
When the doors open, the courtesy lighting recalls the luminous blue signature of Renault's electric vehicle range. The technology used for the dashboard is sophisticated and intuitive. A TFT (Thin Film Transistor) touchscreen displays multimedia information and essential journey-related information such as the navigation function and the location of the nearest 'Quickdrop' station. The display also provides data specific to electric vehicles, such as range optimization information, for example.
The centre console incorporates two floating armrests and forms a fluid, rearward-flowing arc. At the front, the integrated central front armrest includes the stop/start button, the air-conditioning and volume controls, as well as the new touchscreen Samsung Jet phone. This phone comes with a hands-free function, and also enables occupants to listen to music or enjoy a film on the screens which have been built into the front seatbacks. The central rear armrest incorporates the climate control and volume controls, plus another Samsung Jet telephone and two remote controls for the two screens.
Significant care has also gone into the design of the door panels: the door handles echo the rounded form of the centre console and the electric window controls are flush with the surface, while the viewing screen for the rear-view cameras is integrated discreetly yet effectively.
Fluence Z.E. Concept has been thought through to optimize energy use:
The Fluence Z.E. Concept is powered exclusively by an electric motor located near the front axle, in conjunction with a lithium-ion battery positioned between the rear seats and the boot. Renault's designers and engineers worked closely together to develop a safe, practical vehicle capable of accommodating a large enough battery to ensure good range (160km), while also providing sufficient carrying capacity to cater for the requirements of an active family (327dm3).
The Kangoo Z.E. Concept is based on Renault’s existing Kangoo and brings zero-emission mobility to the business road-user. Powered by a 70kW electric motor which delivers 226Nm of torque, the Kangoo Z.E. uses a lithium-ion battery and energy consumption is optimized several ways, without comfort suffering in any way. Kangoo Z.E. Concept's many information functions make it a particularly user-friendly, efficient and interactive vehicle.
Kangoo Z.E. Concept's dimensions (length 3.95m, height: 1.85m) ensure that it is perfectly nimble and manoeuvrable in and about town. Its high torque (226Nm) is instantly available to ensure responsive acceleration performance in built-up areas.
The Kangoo Z.E. Concept provides a foretaste of what mobility promises to resemble in the future for urban-based transporter and delivery companies, while at the same time carrying over the same acclaimed strengths as Kangoo when it comes to travelling comfort, space and safety performance. To facilitate loading, the hatch-type rear door and wide, folding sill ensures that parcels and other types of loads are easy to slide into the boot. The design of Kangoo Z.E. Concept has been thought through in keeping with its mission as an electric vehicle which needs to minimize energy consumption, yet without losing sight of the need for modern comfort-related refinements.
The use of heat-reflective paint and bodywork featuring large surface areas reduces temperature fluctuations. Indeed, the bodywork functions along the same lines as a Thermos flask and comprises two insulating panels with a sandwich of air in between. This air, which is still the most effective insulant known today, serves to moderate temperature extremes between the exterior and the interior of the car. Thermal insulation is further optimized thanks to special treatment of the glazed surfaces, meaning that less call is made of the climate control and heating systems which are big consumers of energy.
Solar panels positioned on the roof are employed to power a temperature regulation system inside the car. Keeping the cabin cool uses a significant amount of energy, but this system also permits a pleasant temperature to be maintained inside the cabin, even at a standstill or when parking, and avoids having to put the climate control system on boost when first getting in the car on a hot day.
The entire layout of the heating and climate control systems has been developed to achieve a particularly efficient trade-off between performance and energy consumption. For example, the impression of heat is especially felt by the face and hands. Accordingly, if the cabin temperature is, say, 15 C, warmth is channelled as close as possible to these more sensitive zones (in the form of a heated steeringwheel, for example) in order to ensure that the driver feels comfortable, while using less electrical energy.
The conventional drag-producing exterior mirrors have been replaced by streamlined, low-energy cameras which are powered by the roof-mounted solar panels. These cameras provide improved all-round visibility, which is especially practical when manoeuvring. The full-disc aluminium alloy wheels produce less drag, too, while the headlights use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) which are not only long-lasting but also low consumers of energy. The Kangoo Z.E. Concept enables the driver to communicate with the vehicle with a view to profiting fully from its technology. For example, logos light up to signal that the vehicle recognizes occupants as they approach. As a socially responsible car, it is also equipped with polyurethane gel bumpers which deform easily to soak up minor knocks, while customers and pedestrians are reassured by their absorbent aspect.
A linear display on the outside of the door provides an indication of how much range remains even before the driver gets inside the vehicle. This lit display can be likened to the charge indicator of a cell phone.
Innovative navigation system interfaces also contribute to intelligent management of the vehicle's energy requirements.
The idea is to simplify journeys with a view to using as little energy as possible. The Man Machine Interfaces (MMI) inside the car have been designed to provide information concerning the location of the nearest car park or charge station as a function of how much range remains. The car not only warns and calculates, but it also thinks ahead. Information is communicated to the driver via a cell phone which slots into the dashboard. Using this cell-phone for the navigation function avoids having to run an energy-consuming in-car computer.
The dashboard itself is divided into distinct functional units which incorporate:
Renault’s Z.E. range will offer three different ways of charging – “filling up” on energy:
The standard charge: takes between four and eight hours, via a charging socket situated on the outside of the vehicle.
The quick charge: in 20 minutes, using the same socket at specific charging points.
The exclusive 'Quickdrop' system, developed in conjunction with Better Way: three minutes at a rapid battery exchange station.
A standard charge using a domestic 220V 10A or 16A socket requires between six and eight hours in order to charge an electric vehicle. This method is best suited to a car parked overnight in a private parking area or during the working day in a shared car park. A secure automatic key system will prevent any kind of vandalism from disconnecting the cable during charging. This type of charging point could easily be incorporated in a private garage, or in shared domestic parking areas. The plug socket can be easily adapted to the current grid by an electrician.
For example, in France, EDF and Renault have been working hand in hand since October 2008. They have recently signed an agreement for a system termed 'Power Line Communication' (PLC). This allows confidential data transfer between the charging point and the vehicle while the battery is being charged, such as the vehicle's identity or billing information, for example.
The "quick charge" process employs a 400V socket capable of operating from 32A to 63A triple phase using infrastructure that is under development. This system will charge a 20kWh battery in just 20 to 30 minutes, according to the available current. Charging points will be installed close to residential areas, offices or shops. A group of 20 manufacturers, including Renault, as well as a long list of energy providers, have been working with the German company RWE on the development of a multi-purpose common charge plug that will cover the range of electricity from 230V/16A single phase to 400V/63A triple phase.
This specification will allow charging infrastructures to be normalized across Europe, while also taking into account the variable capabilities of the different power grids and electric vehicles. The standard charge plug was launched last April in Hanover and will be suitable for recharging Renault's forthcoming range of electric vehicles. Approval by the usual standardization authorities (ISO, IEC) is currently underway.
The Renault-Nissan Alliance has been working for two years in close collaboration with Better Place with a view to developing rapid battery exchange stations.
The automatic battery exchange process takes approximately three minutes – the same amount of time needed to fill the tank at a petrol station. It is also cleaner and more convenient for drivers as they will not need to leave their vehicle. The thinking behind the system is very straightforward and simply involves safely and rapidly removing the empty battery and swapping it for a fully-charged replacement.
The battery exchange station will resemble a car wash, in the sense that the driver will enter the facility and stop the car in a precise location. This will allow the robot positioned underneath the vehicle to easily locate the attachment points of the battery that needs to be replaced.
The system operates with two battery change robots on an automatic conveyor. The first robot takes the fully-charged battery that will be inserted, while the second removes the empty battery. At the end of the process, the conveyor belt transports the empty battery to a storage area where it is recharged in 20 to 30 minutes and then re-employed in another electric vehicle.
The battery change robots have been designed to work with varying battery sizes which will allow them to handle different brands of electric vehicle. This is because the first electric vehicles to reach market will be modified versions of internal combustion vehicles. It is expected that fully electric vehicles will be designed around a common battery standard.
The only restriction is the need for a standardized system of battery attachment points to allow the robot to work as quickly as possible.
The battery exchange technology on display today indicates the state of progress of the project, which will be rolled out in Israel initially. Battery exchange stations will be built to enable journeys longer than 150km, or for specific uses such as taxi fleets. For example, the majority of taxis in and around Paris cover between 140 and 200km a day. They would need just one battery change to complete a day's work, or in other words a stop of just three minutes before they're back on the road with a fully-charged battery.
Both at rapid charge points and at rapid battery exchange stations, the intention is to introduce a system which permits automatic recognition either of the charging socket or of the car itself in order to enable automatic billing. Drivers won't even need to get out a credit card.
Range optimization is the greatest challenge for electric vehicles and why Renault is working hard to make the process as simple and efficient as possible by planning for all types of charging needs and methods.
A dedicated MMI (man-machine interface) has been developed to inform the driver of the vehicle's remaining level of charge and range. A new navigation system has been developed to meet the requirements of electric vehicles. It gives a precise indication of:
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