While in Copenhagen for last year’s climate change summit, Anthill contributor Dave Sag had an opportunity to test drive the Fluence, Renault’s 100 percent electric car. As Sag reports, the loudest thing about the Fluence is its indicator. But is it a game-changer?
There’s something quite amazing about a car that makes no discernable sound when you start it. And I suppose that’s just something we’ll all be getting used to as this decade — the teenies, as they have been dubbed — rolls on.
While in Copenhagen for the COP15 climate change conference last year, I was fortunate enough to run across Renault’s new 100 percent electric Fluence. I’m not so excited by the name, but the thrill I got from driving it was unlike any legal car-related rush I’ve experienced.
The Fluence is a production-ready electric car, one of the first in the world and certainly the first one I’ve had the opportunity to drive. Unlike the much lauded Tesla, this is a family car and will retail in Australia for around AU$45,000 or so — or so the Renault people in Denmark thought. We’ll find out when this car is rolled out here in Canberra early in 2011.
The Fluence has a maximum range of 160 kilometres on a single charge, which is not much use for interstate trips, but quite adequate for running about town. But this is no little run-about; it’s a big, family sized car. To recharge, you either plug in to a special recharge station, or, if you are in a hurry, you can pull up to any Better Place charge point and simply swap out your empty battery for a full one. This process takes a couple of minutes, compared to many hours to recharge the battery via a cable.
Better Place is rolling out the first electric car recharge network in Canberra later this year. The empty batteries can be recharged via solar or some other clean-power, making the running of the cars that use their network — such as the Renault Fluence, but also other makes of car — truly emissions-free. What’s also interesting is you can apparently draw-back power from your car if you so wish. You pay for the recharging and battery swaps on a plan, much like the data-plan you buy with your phone.
So what’s it like to drive? Well I only had a short test-drive , but that was quite an amazing experience. First up, as I mentioned, it’s silent. The Renault tech had unfortunately left the radio on and tuned to a dead station which kind of spoiled the effect somewhat, but we soon turned that off and found that the Fluence just hums along: Indeed, the loudest part of the car is the indicator.
Once I’d navigated out of the hotel parking lot, through the petrol station I didn’t need, and past the armed soldiers that had been stationed to protect some visiting VIP, the novelty had started to wear off and it was really just like driving any ordinary car. It’s only got two gears, forward and backward, and of course neutral (is neutral a gear?).
The pickup is quite incredible; we shot to about 100kph in a matter of seconds before being forced to slow down to let a Danish pedestrian cross the road. Once I’d finished taking it for a spin I took a look at the engine and naturally it was as clean as a whistle. No oil, no grease, no moving parts at all. This car is going to do to the auto-parts industry what the iPod is doing to CD sales.
Of course electric cars have some way to go yet. The 160km maximum range, while a great effort on the part of Renault and Better Place, still means I’d have to recharge it three times on a drive from Canberra to Sydney, or about seven times if I wanted to drive to Adelaide. But if the Australian Federal Government is serious about greening their ComCar fleet, this would be absolutely perfect. Canberra’s much lamented taxi service could adopt these as part of a major overhaul, too (in my dreams).
However, battery density need only double three times and this car could easily make the trip to Adelaide on a single charge. And at the rate technology is advancing, we could hope for that to happen by around 2015 or so.
Widespread adoption of electric vehicles seems assured to me. Now we just need to convince people not to drive to their local shops. Electric cars are still no substitute for a nice walk or a pleasant bike ride.
Dave Sag Test Drives the Renault Fluence
Dave Sag is a founder, executive director and Chief Operating Officer of Carbon Planet, the global emissions management company. He lives in Canberra and does not actually own any car. Follow him on Twitter: @davesag