The Kangoo ZE: The Jewel in Renault’s Electric Car Range | IAA Frankfurt Auto Show

The moment sustainable motoring has waited for has finally arrived: a full range of all-electric cars.

Renault has launched the world’s first range of purely electric cars at the IAA Frankfurt Motor Show 2009.  Designed to cater for everyone from a single traveller to local commerce, via 2.5 kids family cars, it’s a revolution in three important ways:

  • the range is designed from scratch as a complete set of electric cars — not gas-fueled cars with an electric motor retro-fitted to give the manufacturer green kudos;
  • the cars will be priced without an “electric premium,” allowing them to compete alongside gas-based engines on a like-for-like basis for the first time ever;
  • most importantly, they’re real. Presented as concept cars, the Kangoo ZE is already in an advanced prototype stage, and I was lucky enough to drive it at Frankfurt.

Kangoo Zero Emissions Concept

Power 70 kW Torque 226 Nm
Range 100 miles Speed 80 mph
Charge Time 30 mins – 8 hrs (*) Weight 1.52 tonne

The Kangoo ZE is the lynchpin of Renault’s ambitions to dominate the European electric car market.

They reason, quite rationally, that a large proportion of light commercial vehicles operate within a limited area which varies little from day to day or week to week. Florists have the same catchment area, and so do plumbers and electricians.

And the Postal Service. The French Postal Service, La Poste, already uses the Renault Kangoo and the partnership has proved so popular that models of Kangoo LaPoste postal vans are now a collectors item.

More importantly, LaPoste has committed to phasing in the electric Kangoo ZE model once it is available. Ontop of this, according to Thierry Koskas, Renault’s Director of Electric Vehicles, Renault has agreements in place with other European businesses but he declined to comment on specifics when asked.

Test Driving the Renault Kangoo

The best thing about the Renault Kangoo ZE is that is actually exists. The Kangoo ZE BeBop prototype was available to drive at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and Gas 2.0 was honoured to be invited to jump in and give it a go.

At this point I could wax poetic about how wonderful it was; about how it’s so quiet we drove behind a horse without the horse hearing us, or how we went onto a divided highway and the vehicle got from zero to 40 mph in less than a hundred yards.

But the real point is that this prototype not only exists, but has been manufactured to meets Europe’s stringent safety specifications to allow it to be driven on the open highway. I drove it on real roads, mucked in with commuter and commercial traffic on a divided highway.

I drove a car, this car, on the highway. And it was normal. I didn’t feel like a freak and there was no “green electric hippie sign” flashing above the car as I cornered suburban streets. In fact, to be honest, it was pretty boring.


So many prototypes exist to show that a certain technical innovation can work, or that a certain styling looks as good in real life as it does on paper. Usually journalists get to drive them on a test track, but rarely on the open road.

Renault’s Kangoo ZE BeBop prototype is, on the other hand, A Real Car. It shows that electric vehicles are ready for mass production. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.

The Renault Kangoo ZE will be available to buy in 2011. In my opinion, the sooner, the better.

Turn the page for more info on the Renault Twizy…

Twizy Zero Emissions Concept

Power 15 kW Torque 70 Nm
Range 62 miles Speed 45 mph
Charge Time 3.5 hrs Weight 0.42 tonne

The Twizy is the smallest and the most innovative of Renault’s electric car range. In fact, to call it a car is to miss the point… it’s more a four-wheeled motorbike.

Designed to compete with a 125cc motorbike, the car is one seat wide with the passenger sitting directly behind the driver.

It’s aimed at a single person who has up to 30 miles to travel to work every day and features a battery which can be fully recharged in 3.5 hours from any 220V mains outlet.

In fact it reinvents the idea of a car, and once you’ve got your head around the idea, you can start to appreciate all the Renault Twizy has to offer.

For the single person, going to work or going shopping, it’s ideal. And every family, perhaps, will end up with one in their garage for low-emission personal journeys or shopping trips.

Thierry Koskas, Director of Electric Vehicles, said “The Twizy will enable individuals to move around in the most environmentally responsible way possible: this could be an individual’s mode of transport for the future”.

The Renault Twizy ZE will be available to buy in 2011.

Turn to the last page for info on the Renault Zoe and Fluence…

Zoe Zero Emissions Concept

Power 70 kW Torque 225 Nm
Range 100 miles Speed 87 mph
Charge Time 30 mins – 8 hrs (*) Weight 1.4 tonne

Fluence Zero Emissions Concept

Power 70 kW Torque 226 Nm
Range 100 miles Speed 87 mph
Charge Time 30 mins – 8 hrs (*) Weight 1.6 tonne

The Zoe and Fluence concept electric cars are Renault’s competition for the existing four and five door car market. Technically there is little to differentiate them, but their presentation and added extras ensure they appeal to different market sectors.

The Zoe is a four seat, four scissor-door electric car whose back seats can be folded down to provide additional side loading boot capacity. It incorporates a unique triple climate control system, developed in partnership with L’Oreal, which Renault claim will leave occupants “more relaxed, just like after a spa treatment” after each journey.

The Fluence, on the other hand, is a five door, five seat electric car which Renault unashamedly proclaim is for “the single-car family father who would use the car every day to go to the office, but who would also want to take his wife and children to the country at the weekend”.

Where the Zoe is feminine in it’s presentation, the Fluence is unashamedly male: it’s a technology laden dream which includes an inbuilt mobile phone, the ability to download and use in-car music and films from the internet and touch-screen satellite navigation systems.

Thierry Koskas, Director of Electric Vehicles, said these cars “give unparalleled opportunity for urban families to go about their day-to-day life in a much more environmentally friendly way than is currently possible, while their cost base remains the same”.

The Renault Zoe ZE will be available to buy in 2011, the Renault Fluence ZE in 2012.

* double / triple battery charging system.

Chris Milton

is a seasoned sustainability journalist focusing on business, finance and clean technology. His writing's been carried by a number of highly respected publishers, including The Guardian, The Washington Post and Scientific American. You can follow him on twitter as @britesprite, where he's one of Mashable's top green tweeters and Fast Company's CSR thought leaders. Alternatively you can follow him to the shops... but that would be boring.