First Drive: Renault Kangoo ZE

Date: Thursday, November 18, 2010

First up among the four Renault electric vehicles coming in the next 18 months or so is the Kangoo ZE commercial vehicle application that could make the most sense for the range-limited technology.

Fitting it to a small commercial vehicle is logical, given the potential for that sort of vehicle to be making predictable urban trips of under 100 miles, and therefore able to work EVs’ mileage issues around the cost benefits.
Coming next summer, the Kangoo EV will cost £16,990 excluding VAT, a figure that doesn’t have the advantage of the Government’s £5000 electric subsidy as commercial vehicles are excluded from the scheme.  
The batteries slot below the floor, partly in the space left by the petrol tank, so there’s no impact upon the 3.0cu/m load volume, although payload is cut slightly to 650kg.

 

Silent pull away

Apart from the automatic gear lever, the interior is basic Kangoo, as is the exterior, which doesn’t betray the electric vehicle underneath. Driving it, however, is a different story. The silent pull-away with an immediate surge of torque is a giveaway, and even more so is the energy regeneration system as soon as you lift off the accelerator. In order to help extend the vehicle’s range, when the driver lifts off the accelerator, the resistance gives a little boost to the battery.
However, the Kangoo’s system is the most severe I’ve ever come across, with massive forces slowing the van as soon as the driver lifts. In fact, in the three-mile London test drive, we only needed to touch the brakes twice, and with a little forward planning, the regenerative system would be enough to almost eliminate the need to brake altogether. As a result, the van is always either accelerating or slowing sharply, which makes reducing speed to find an address, for instance, difficult as there’s no easy way of gently coasting along a street at a constant rate.
The Kangoo EV also felt quite sluggish compared with the first of Renault’s EV cars, due early 2012, the more powerful lower medium Fluence – and that was on a test route that didn’t allow any speed over 30mph, and unladen. Although the top speed is in theory 81mph, it might take a while to push on that far.
Despite that, the Kangoo is an interesting addition to the electric vehicle market, and certainly takes much of the purchase price issue out of the equation because it doesn’t cost that much more up-front than a diesel and will be significantly cheaper to fuel and maintain. If the individual situation allows, it’ll be well worth a look. Renault won’t have to try too hard to shift the few hundred units it’s looking to sell in the UK next year.  

 

Electric vehicle plan

Renault has decided to head down the route of selling its electric cars and vans – starting with the Kangoo next summer – but leasing the battery separately. It’s a move that’s causing concern among leasing companies, as well as some residual value experts, who are against the idea of sharing ownership of a vehicle.
“With contract hire overall there is a lot of scepticism about it – there are some contract hire firms taking the view that unless you can own the battery they’re not prepared to countenance EVs, and there are some who are taking more of a position of how can we make this work,” said Renault’s electric vehicle programme boss Andy Heiron.
He said Renault is trying to work through the issues with lease companies, but one or two have followed the lead of residual value expert Cap, which has set its position out as refusing to quote an RV for a vehicle unless the battery is included as part of the one deal. Renault anticipates that the battery life will be eight-10 years, and then it sees an additional five years of life in a secondary use for electricity storage in industry or domestically.  “The danger of the purchasing route for batteries, is the six-or seven-year value will be extremely questionable as there will be a huge cost looming,” said a spokesman.
The battery lease is set to cost around £70-£80 per month, and the lithium-ion batteries have the advantage of not being damaged by part-charging, as has historically been the case with everything from laptop batteries to those in mobile phones. Small regular charges are “just like topping up your car with £10 of petrol”, said a spokesman.
“I don’t think we’ll sell into ones and twos – butcher, baker and candlestick maker. It will be significant tranches of vehicles into big brand names with clear low-carbon agendas,” said Heiron. 

 

Renault’s key arguments

in favour of leasing

 

Value for money

The battery cost is amortised over the eight-10 years of automotive use, plus potential second-life usage. This means that costs are much lower than writing down over a three-year lease (as per vehicle).

Battery lifecycle management

Responsibility for recycling and resale of the battery rests with Renault, which is best-placed to establish commercial opportunities for second-life applications for a significant volume of batteries.

Consumer confidence

The leased battery is effectively warranted by Renault for the duration of the contract, regardless of the age of the battery or car. In the event of anything going wrong Renault will repair/replace the battery providing peace-of-mind for the consumer.

Adapt to new technology

The potential is for users to upgrade their lease to benefit from advances in battery technology. This insulates customers from the financial risk of battery obsolescence. 


Verdict
A price of just a little less than £17,000 for the Renault Kangoo ZE makes this electric light commercial vehicle very attractive in the right business operation.

 

 



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