Have you ever played with slot racing cars? You know, the sort where tiny electric cars race around an electrified track, kept in place only by the skill of the person controlling the remote throttle trigger and the little pin on the underside of the car which slots into a groove on the track?
Slot car racing — probably better known these days as Scalextric by most people — is incredibly good fun for adults and kids alike, but what if you could turn two real electric cars into full-size slot racers? And what if your race track was some of the most famous streets in London?
That’s the question Renault asked itself in its latest viral video for the Zoe electric car, in which it supposedly builds, then races two life-sized slot racers for an adrenaline-filled race around the streets of London.
In its accompanying press release, Renault says the two Zoe electric hatchbacks — one white, one black — were outfitted with a ‘reworked undercarriage, including the fitting of specially-designed braids,’ which it said helped the two Zoes stay on track.
The video itself details the building of the track, the preparation of the cars themselves, and the early-morning setup of the 1.9-mile course. It’s a great piece of marketing too, as Renault reminds us that unlike regular slot-racing cars, the Renault Zoes will carry all the power they need with them, in their on-board lithium-ion battery pack.
Once the track is ready, we then see two lucky winners of a Renault completion climb into a specially-chartered helicopter which hovers over the race track as they remotely control the two racing EVs from the air… using Renault’s own remote control iPhone app. Then, with the official countdown made, the two cars zip off, dashing around the course like the pint-sized toys we all must have played with at some point. There’s even the classic Scalextric cross-over, where the two cars ‘switch lanes’ with much squealing of tyres and sparks flying from the guide pins.
Of course, while we’d all like to believe this really happened — and Renault does try fairly well to make us believe this — the three-minute video is only possible thanks to a large dose of computer-generated graphics… and some pretty obvious gaffs on Renault’s part.
Firstly, there’s the track: at the start of the film, when members of the Renault team explain that when people think of electric cars they think of Scalextric (we don’t) we see the track being constructed. And it’s being constructed out of wood. Then when we see the track being put into place, we see one of the ‘metallic’ sections being laid in place. It’s flexible, and doesn’t look all that strong. In short, the track wouldn’t be able to withstand the forces of the full-size Zoe careening around it without splitting.
Second, there’s the dubious use of an iPhone as a remote control for the cars. Even with the fastest Internet connection, the lag between the controller and the car — presumably via a data center somewhere — would have been so large the cars would have crashed on the first corner.
Then of course, there’s the CGI. Which, we’re sad to say, isn’t the best we’ve ever seen. Watch the video in low resolution and you might be convinced the cars are really racing around the track. Watch it in full HD at around 2 minutes, 10 seconds into the video, and the composting of real-live video and computer animation fails to take into account the lighting conditions of the supposedly early-morning London street scene on the two cars. The shots that follow aren’t any better.
Slot racing around central London? It’s a nice idea, but in this case, it’s obviously a fake. And for Renault, which has delivered the whole thing in a dead-pan way, there’s one line in the press release which confirms our suspicions: “However, as with the Clio videos which have now attracted over five million views on YouTube, all is not quite as it may seem.”
We love the conceit: turn real electric cars into slot-racers for the day to show how wonderfully-balanced they are and how fun they are to drive. We even like the idea of using slot-racing cars in an advert to promote the Zoe — but as it stands Renault appears to have tried to make it too realistic in an attempt to dupe the viewer. And without the million-dollar CGI budgets of Hollywood, that’s a tough task.
What would have worked better perhaps was to have started with an obviously computer-animated opening, morphing to cutaway scene of someone getting out of both cars. But that’s just our jaded opinions at play. that said, we’ve got to give Renault Kudos for thinking out of the (scalextric) box.
And since the holiday season is upon us, maybe the release of this particular video is apropos. After all, we wouldn’t say no to a real-life EV racing game… would you?