Renault’s Fluence Z.E. electric sedan, with seating for five and the air of a car designed almost exclusively for fleet use, is no more.
That’s according to Renault, which confirmed to Transport Evolved today that European production of its plug-in electric sedan ended in November for good. Instead, sources close to the company said, Renault is focusing on sales of its Zoe Z.E., Twizy, Z.E, and Kangoo Z.E. vehicles.
Look at Renault’s official website, and you’ll still see the Fluence Z.E. for sale alongside Renault’s three other plug-in cars. But, we’re told, while “there are a small number of vehicles still for sale,” Renault stopped producing the Fluence Z.E. for the European market in mid-November.
This information contradicts a tip-off we received last week which stated that Renault was readying a ‘phase 2’ version of the Fluence Z.E. for the European market, complete with an upgraded charging connector conforming to Europe’s official ‘Mennekes’ charging standard and the ability to charge at up to 43 kilowatts using the same chameleon AC quick charge system found in the Renault Zoe.
But after some digging, it seems the car in question wasn’t actually the Renault Fluence Z.E: it was the Samsung SM3 Z.E., a rebadged Renault Fluence Z.E. produced and sold in South Korea under license by Renault-Samsung Motors. The car, which entered production at Samsung’s Busan factory in October last year, does in fact come as standard with the same 43 kilowatt Chameleon charger found in Renault’s Zoe EV. European-market Fluence Z.E. cars only shipped with a a measly 3.3 kilowatt onboard ‘type 2’ charger.
Designed originally to work with the battery swap technology pioneered by now bankrupt Israeli firm Better Place, the Renault Fluence was clearly intended to be used primarily in large corporate fleets in countries where Better Place had established its battery swap technology. Instead of using rapid charging technology on the vehicle, the car’s design allowed for a depleted battery pack to be exchanged for a fully-charged one in a little over five minutes at a Better Place battery swap station.
Better Place’s vision was one which it hoped would revolutionise the world of EVs: customers would buy cars outright or lease them in the usual way. But then they would pay Better Place a monthly fee for battery rental and the ability to use its quick swap stations.
Yet by the time it declared bankruptcy last year, Better Place had only succeeded in building battery swap stations in two countries: Israel, and Denmark. While the former was home to enough battery swap stations for any of Better Place’s 1,5000 or so customers to make a trip across country without getting more so much as a whiff of range anxiety, Denmark’s network of battery swap stations extended only to a small number of swap stations. Plus, if you’re looking, a single swap station in the Netherlands, at Amsterdam Airport, for use by a fleet of Taxi cabs.
Sadly, without Better Place’s battery swap technology, the Fluence Z.E. was at best, a mediocre EV and a mediocre fleet car. While it may still may make a good used car buy for some, we never felt much love toward the car when it wasn’t part of a quick swap solution. Unlike the Zoe and the Nissan LEAF, the Fluence’s 24 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack could only be charged in the vehicle in one way: the agonisingly slow 3.3 kilowatt-on-board charger, which took anything from six to ten hours to refuel, depending on the type of charging unit it was plugged into.
Essentially, the Fluence Z.E. was a bit of a let down, thanks to its lack of rapid charge capabilities and a lack of infrastructure to support the one feature which made the car make sense. In a market where hatchbacks dominate over sedans every time, we can’t think that many people who will miss it either.
At least we know now why all those used Fluence Z.E.s entering the used car market at the end of 2013 were so cheap: Renault was disposing of its press and sales fleet.
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