Renault and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn shocked the world last year when he said, "we must have zero-emission vehicles. Nothing else will prevent the world from exploding." Holy carp! Luckily, his company has now unveiled four (count 'em) electric car concepts due for release in 2011 -- just in time to save us all, if rather too late for the French manufacturer's battered reputation.
The first of these is the Twizy Z.E Concept, an ultra-compact 1+1 city car that's only slightly larger than a scooter. It measures 2.3m long by 1.1m wide and should run rings around most city cars thanks to its 3m turning circle, top speed of 47mph and acceleration comparable to that of a 125cc motorbike.
Next, there's the compact, four-seater Zoe Z.E Concept -- a more conventional (if you can call it that) city car. Due for release in 2012, it'll sport roof-mounted solar panels and polyurethane bumpers to protect its funky electric innards. Impressively, Renault has signed a deal with French cosmetics firm L'Oreal to enhance the Zoe's active climate system. It will, we're told, waft 'hydrating', 'detox' and 'active scents' into the cabin, in order to relax, energise and, er, moisten the Zoe Z.E's occupants.
The third of Renault's electric cars is the Fluenz Z.E Concept. This is a larger, more conventional-looking family-oriented car, designed to offer five occupants comfort and space. Its party trick is its use of Samsung Jet phones as a central control system. Drivers use a Jet to open and close the car, to start the ignition, as well as to make hands-free calls. A second Jet phone, mounted in the armrest between the two rear seats, is used to play sound and video on screens mounted in the headrest of the front seats.
Last but not least, Renault unveiled the Kangoo Z.E Concept, a leisure activity vehicle -- or van -- based on the existing petrol-powered Kangoo.
Renault is being tight-lipped about the performance for these vehicles, but we're told the Zoe, Fluenz and Kangoo will have a driving range of about 100 miles and a top speed of around 88mph. All three will use lithium-ion batteries and come with a choice of recharging methods. A standard charge via a 200V, 10A or 16A household plug will take between 4 and 8 hours, while 'Quickcharge' mode, via a 400V, 32A or 63A triple-phase socket, will take just 20 minutes -- although infrastructure for such charging stations is not yet readily available.
The third and most interesting charging method is Quickdrop. To make use of this, drivers must locate a Quickdrop charge spot, remove their near-exhausted battery, and swap it for another fully charged battery in a process that's said to take around 3 minutes. This scheme is in its infancy, but Renault is collaborating with electric vehicle services provider Better Place to create a regional network of charge spots in the near future.
We're understandably very excited by all four vehicles, but several questions remain: can Renault really deliver all four by 2011? How much will it tone down their apperance? Will petrol cars really make the world explode? When, Carlos, when?!
Hopefully, we'll have the answers to these questiosn and more very soon, but in the meantime, head over to our photo gallery for more pictures and info.