Renault of France pioneered battery electric vehicles (BEV) with the little Zoe, launched in 2012, but analysts say the company has been slow to replace it and is now finding sales harder to achieve as just about every other big car maker has launched more modern competitors.
The Zoe replacement isn’t due until 2024, although Renault is introducing an electric compact SUV next year, and has a big program of electrification.
Zoe sales in Western Europe dived 28.1% in the first 9 months of 2021 to 44,609 compared with the same period of 2020, according to Schmidt Automotive Research, but this almost 10 year-old vehicle still ranked 3rd in the table, behind the leading Tesla Model 3 (99,053) and the Volkswagen ID.3 (51,760).
In the Western Europe top 10 table for the first 9 months, the Zoe was the only model reporting lower sales.
And Renault has big plans for the electric sector. The Zoe will be replaced in 2024 by the Renault 5, while next year the Megane E-Tech compact SUV will debut. That will face down the VW ID.4. The electric range will also include 3 light vans, and a Renault 4, a throwback to the successful small car of the 1960s and 1970s and which will replace the Renault Twingo, according to French auto consultants Inovev.
The vans will include the new electric Renault Kangoo, and an electric Nissan. Renault is linked with Nissan of Japan in a long-standing alliance.
“Unlike other brands, Renault is not targeting 100% sales of BEVs in 2030, but 90% electrified vehicles, through 65% full hybrids, and the rest plug-in hybrids and battery electrics. Renault wants to reduce the cost of its batteries by 60% between 2021 and 2030,” Inovev said.
Renault needs to show more urgency, according to Viktor Irle, Stockholm, Sweden-based analyst with consultancy EV-volumes.
“Renault is the only brand in the whole world that is losing electric sales, which points to the Zoe being too old and expensive with the specifications not up to such a price,” Irle said.
Prices of the little city car start at £27,495 ($37,000 after tax and before government subsidy).
“The Zoe replacement isn’t expected until 2024. Probably they should have made that a little earlier. It has been a great car for Renault and was the biggest selling electric car in Europe. Yes, sure, the 5 will be a good replacement and it’s a little bit bigger than the Zoe,” Irle said.
Felipe Munoz, global automotive analyst at JATO Dynamics, agreed that Renault had been slow to update the Zoe, which was ahead of its time and was a leader in the electric segment.
“Renault had a good start, but stopped there,” Munoz said.
“Yes, the Zoe is one of the only two pure electric models in the top 20 to post a decline vs last year. Still, it is the third best-selling BEV, which is remarkable considering the arrival of new competitors like the Peugeot e-208, Fiat 500, Opel/Vauxhall e-Corsa, etc. Renault needs to get back into the EV and the best way of doing so is with its partner Nissan. They need to increase cooperation in order to better face the competitors that they didn’t have 10 years ago when the Zoe and (Nissan) Leaf were two valid choices,” he said.
I’ve just spent a week driving the latest version of the Zoe – E-Tech GT Line R135 – and it has made big improvements over the years. At launch in late 2012, the first Zoe featured a 22-kWh battery capable of around 93 miles of real-world range. The second-generation model, launched in 2016, introduced a 41-kWh battery which doubled the range to 186 miles.
Now, the latest 52-kWh battery offers a further improved claimed range of 238 miles, although after 6 battery recharges it averaged only 186 miles. It was a very lively car to drive, and it easily held up its promised city and urban range with an impressive regenerative braking system, although this often, erractically, promised more than it delivered. For instance, once when I left the car overnight without charging it the range availability had risen by 2 miles by the morning. I then drove it 6 miles and the available range then gained another 2 miles.
The Zoe is unsuitable for extended highway cruising and shed available miles at an alarming rate. On a motorway journey cruising at accepted speeds, if the range availability showed 100 miles, it would only manage about 1/3. It’s hard to dispute its abilities as a city car, although its price – £33,795 ($45,450 after tax before government subsidy) – will put off many buyers. This latest version finally included a DC fast charging facility.
The price has gained about £10,000 ($13,500) over the last iteration, mainly because the previous model was sold without a battery, which was then leased to the buyer. The current Zoe includes the battery too.
Renault Zoe E-Tech GT Line R135
Power – 134 hp @ 4,200 rpm
Torque – 245 Nm @ 1,500-2,500
Battery – 52 kWh lithium ion
Claimed range – 238 miles (WLTP)
Acceleration – 0-60 mph 9.5 seconds
Top Speed – 87 mph
Competition – Honda e, Vauxhall Corsa e, Peugeot 208 e, Nissan Leaf, MG ZS, BMW i3, Mini e, Hyundai Kona e, Kia e-Niro, Fiat 500 e, Mazda MX-30.
Price – £33,795 ($45,450 after tax before government subsidy)