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Why America Needs a Nissan-Badged Renault Zoe |

WARREN, Mich. — As automakers race to make cheaper electric cars with greater battery range, General Motors is working on one that can go 200 miles per charge at a cost of about $30,000, a top company executive said.

Vice President of Global Product Development Doug Parks wouldn’t say when or if such a car will be built, however.

Currently GM sells the $35,000 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, which can go 38 miles on electricity before a gas-powered generator kicks in. It also offers the all-electric Chevy Spark subcompact that can go 82 miles on a charge. It starts at $26,685. Electric cars are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

The 200-mile car would cost about the same as the current Volt, and it would match the range and be far cheaper than Tesla Motors’ $71,000, all-electric Model S. The Model S can go up to 265 miles on a single charge.


Why America Needs a Nissan-Badged Renault Zoe

The Renault Zoe, the fourth all-electric car from Renault, is selling strongly in Europe. Smaller than the Nissan LEAF, the five door supermini combines charging versatility, seating for five, hatchback styling, and class-leading cargo space in a car just 160.8 inches long. Ten years ago, a car with the small proportions of the Renault Zoe would never have been considered for the U.S. market. But maybe times have changed.

With subcompacts like the Chevrolet Spark and Ford Fiesta proving popular among younger buyers however, Nissan—which has shared a strategic partnership of technology, employees and shares with Renault since 1999—could bring a rebadged Zoe to the U.S. as a smaller, cheaper electric alternative to the Nissan LEAF. After a week at behind the wheel of the Renault Zoe, here’s why I believe it would be a hit.

Fun and Funky

With its aggressive front grille, long, angled headlights and rounded rear, the Renault Zoe has plenty of appeal for younger buyers who don’t need or want a larger car. Inside, the styling continues with a hot-hatch theme—striking front seats, minimalistic interior and easy-to-use dashboard.

Like the smaller two-seat Twizy, also made by Renault and now being sold with a Nissan badge in Japan, the Zoe is designed for city life. The top-spec Zen variant coming with a built-in air-freshener to mask out nasty city odors that have made their way into the cabin. Introduced to the U.S. market, a Nissan-badged Zoe would be a popular choice in congested cities where smaller, stylish and easy-to-park cars have the advantage over less nimble vehicles.

Conventional Driving Experience

While the Nissan LEAF’s interior—especially the large touch-screen display, dashboard and gear selection lever—send the clear message that it is not another regular car, many drivers feel alienated by its geeky design. The Zoe on the other hand, feels very much like any other small hatchback. There’s a conventional parking brake, a standard automatic gear shifter, and the electronically-regulated climate control is set with an easy-to-understand rotary dial.

Introduced as a U.S. model, the Zoe would give Nissan a more conventional car to offer buyers who were unsure of the LEAF’s futuristic look and gadget-focused interior. If it were imported, Nissan would have to revise the current interior trim to bring it up to U.S. standards: at the moment, the Zoe’s trim contains a fair amount of cheap hard plastic which wouldn’t sell well in the U.S.

Charging Versatility

The European version of the Renault Zoe is capable of charging from 16 and 32 amp charging stations at both single and triple phase. That reduces a full charge down to as little as 30 minutes at an appropriate three-phase charging station. A modified version of its Chameleon charger—which uses the car’s power electronics to charge the battery instead of a stand-alone charger—could give an American Zoe capabilities in excess of 10 kilowatts at single phase. You would need an appropriate charging station that matches the Level 2 charging capabilities of cars like the 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV. Perhaps even faster speeds could be accommodated with appropriate higher-power Level 2 charging stations. (Your electrician could sort out the issues, but the main point is the possibility of very fast home charging in a Zoe.)

This makes the Zoe a great second family car for errand-running, especially for families with hectic personal calendars needing to fit short top-up charging in between school runs, the daily commute, and shopping trips.

How about performance? While not quite as zippy as the Nissan LEAF, performance around town is more than adequate to keep ahead of most traffic, accelerating from 0-60 mph in around 12 seconds. Meanwhile, range of around 80-90 miles per charge is more than adequate for an average day’s use.

But perhaps the biggest draw for the U.S. market is the Zoe’s sales point.At £13,995 in the U.K., (including 20 percent sales tax, with battery rental at £70 per month for 7,500 miles per year), it’s conceivable a U.S. version of the Zoe, badged as a Nissan, could sell for around $18,500 before incentives, making it one of the most affordable and practical EVs on the market.


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