For the moment, let’s forget about doomsayers, global warming, Ozone layer, plastic in the oceans and straws up turtle noses and let’s just look at the Zoe logically. And just as a car. As a means to get you from here, to there.
When the car was delivered to me, straight from a showroom that is about 20 Km away, the batteries were already down to 85%. Expected remaining range was 240 Km and I immediately started to feel like a traveler at an airport with a phone and a charger, desperately searching for a plug.
Map out the city, locate at least 3 charging stations in an area, you know, in case some of them were not operational or busy, and plan ahead to leave enough time to the ever-present re-charge stress. How wrong I was.
City Slicker to the Bone
The Zoe is an utilitarian hatchback, the size of a Clio but, at 1,985Kg it is about 400Kg heavier. And with a top power of 92 Bhp. Now, here is the thing. 92 seems like a low number in the days of triple digit power specs but in reality, what matters is the torque. And the torque of the bang-bang power-train is somewhat stable from 2,200 RPM to about 5,000 RPM. Look at the power graphs of any car and you shall see that the amount of time you are extracting max power from your car is about 5 minutes. Per year. Seriously, how often do you rev your car all the way to the red line?
The nature of electric motors is slightly different as the torque is dependent only on the voltage applied, not the speed at which it’s turning. Therefore, with the Zoe, you effectively have 261 Nm of torque at any time, from stand still. And that takes a long time to get used to. It takes about a minute. And after that you see petrol cars like you look at mechanical watches. Stylish and all that, but just old.
On the road the Zoe feels planted. With such a hefty load of batteries, pretty much all electric cars feel so. But the immediate availability of power is liberating. There is no automatic shuffle of gears, or forms to be filled to overtake anything, or screaming engine sounds. It’s just steady acceleration. Lovely. However, it needs to be said that carrying almost 2 tons of matter in such a small car, and with such a cheap-ish suspension, it’s felt on speedbumps. It looks like the car is going to break apart if you don’t REALLY take your time to go over them.
Heavy on the Mid-Section…
It would be unfair to go over cornering and sporty driving as the Zoe is not only not built for that, but the weight it carries make it more like a van than a sporty hatchback. However, the extra low center of gravity prevent most of the body-roll.
And that takes us to the elephant in the room, the range. Advertised 300 Km or so, but we tested this in Dubai, in the summer, with outside temperatures of 45 degrees, and with the A/C working on overtime. Effective range was about 240 Km all told. Which seems on the low side. Seems.
It’s actually more than enough. A city car. Daily average is going to be less than 80 Km unless you are in sales or delivering stuff. But even used as that, you are just not going to run out of charge. During my drive I went to the supermarket a few times, and there are chargers there. So I never even got into the uncomfortable inquietude of searching for a plug. Actually, I worked out that you need to make about 10 trips a day to drain the battery. And hardly anybody would do that.
As a result, the experience with the electric car, even without a home charger, was flawless. Which drives us to the last two points I would like to make.
The infrastructure is not there yet
Ok, I am 45 years old and I remember how we used to live in the 80’s. Cars needed to fuel up far more often than today, and there were no gas stations every 300 meters. You needed to plan a little. Not a whole lot, just a little. Maps came in paper format and the gas stations were noted in there. So you planned your trips accordingly, because you did run the risk of having very stressful situations.
The situation in today’s electric charging stations is nowhere near that. The philosophy is to top up, not fuel up. Much like you do with your phone. But further than that, you are going to have a charging port at home, and rare will be the day that you need more than 250Km of range.
But further than that, just think about it. What are there more of, gas stations or plugs?
Power comes from fossil fuels from power stations and blah, blah, blah
Well, the stupidity encroached in that statement is so paramount a book could be written about it. However, I will counter with a couple of FACTS. Yes, they are less powerful than emotions, faith, beliefs and alternative facts, but there they are…
First, no matter what % of electricity comes from renewable energy, your car charge is that % better than a fuel car.
Second, the efficiency of electric cars is enormous. For example, during my three days with the Zoe, I consumed 50 kWh. My charge into the car was 55 kWh as per the chargers I used. Therefore, about 88% of the power put into the car was converted into energy that resulted in movement.
A fuel engine runs at about 40% efficiency in the best of cases. Take that maths! That means you are letting go 60% of the available energy and converting it into heat.
Far and Away
We’ll finish with a thought on the range versus what’s now available in the market. With the Tesla 3 sporting a range of 500 Km, and the Leaf on 400 Km, and the Bolt on about the same, the 250/300 Km of the Zoe seem small, but I think otherwise.
This is a city car. It’s not for your Xmas vacation to your parent’s home, or the trip to the beach house. It is for your daily needs. Take into account that range is directly related to battery size. And that is weight. Unlike a fuel car, in which as you go along the weight of the fuel goes up in smoke. In electricity, the weight remains. Thus, you are better off with the range you need, than the range you may need, sometime, maybe.
Zoe has it right. And their bet is now being confirmed by the Nissan Leaf, which for the latest iteration they offer the car with almost the same range as the Renault.
And finally, the price. At 36,000$ or thereabouts, it is much pricier than the Clio. But take into account that your average tank is going to last you 450 Km, and that the price of electricity for that range is going to cost about 20% of what you spend on gasoline. Our brief calculation shows that the difference in the price is wiped out after about 60,000 Km. And after 140,000 Km, you are driving a free car in the fuel savings… Let alone the savings on brake pads, oil changes, spark plugs and all the other minutiae required to contain an explosion. Makes total sense.