Renault’s flagship electric car, the five-seat Renault Zoe Z.E. hatchback, is known worldwide for one rather clever trick. Thanks to its aptly-named on-board Chameleon Charger, the all-electric supermini can recharge from pretty much any AC public charging station it finds from 3 kilowatts single phase up to 43 kilowatts three phase.
At the highest power setting, the Renault Zoe can recharge its 22 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack from empty to 80 percent full in under thirty minutes. It’s currently the only electric car on the market today capable of three-phase AC rapid charging at such high rates, so it makes sense that Renault has historically been providing financial assistance to charging station operators seeking to install Renault Zoe-friendly 43 kilowatt AC rapid charge stations.
No more ‘support’
Yet Transport Evolved learned yesterday from an anonymous source that Renault may be axing that policy, relying on charge providers to support its car without financial incentives.
“Renault no-longer wishes to support the installation of 43 kilowatt public charging,” our anonymous industry-insider told us.”I’m not sure if this means that it is moving to a different charging standard or something else entirely.”
In order to encourage adoption rates of its cars, Renault — along with its alliance partner Nissan — has partly funded the installation of Europe-wide ‘dual-head’ charging networks, with a 43 kilowatt AC connector and a 50 kilowatt DC CHAdeMO connector fitted. Since each charging station installation costs a different amount of money to the next, it’s hard to tie down exact costs, but having talked to several industry professionals, we’d price the equipment itself at anywhere from £15,000 to £20,000. Installation is about the same.
“A case by case basis”
Transport Evolved reached out to Renault for official comment on the story last night and was told that the automaker was not able to confirm the rumor. Instead, we were told, charging station installations were being examined on a case by case basis.
“Renault is still subsidizing chargers,” said Renault Press representative Aline Henry. “We participate but not systematically to the upgrade of some fast charging stations into AC/DC charging stations.”
When extra clarification was sought on new sites without any existing charging infrastructure present, we were told “Renault is subsidizing chargers on a case by case basis to trigger multi-standards.”
In other words unlike Nissan, which appears to be attempting nationwide coverage for its CHAdeMO rapid charging stations, Renault’s approach may be more cautious, perhaps even limiting charging station coverage to areas with high existing EV adoption rates.
Only the Zoe can use it
Despite having the largest selection of plug-in cars on the market today, the Renault Z.E. range doesn’t conform to one single charging standard.
Its now dead Renault Fluence Z.E. had a 3.3 kilowatt on-board charger which used the J1772 ‘type 1’ connector found on most U.S.-market cars. While it was built from the ground up to work with Better Place’s battery swap technology, its swappable battery pack could only be charged at a maximum speed of 3.3 kilowatts when located in the car.
Its tiny Twizy two-seat city car doesn’t use Chameleon charger technology either. It uses an off-the-shelf 2 kilowatt charger which plugs into a standard household outlet. Without a converter box, the Twizy can’t even use official type 2 public charging stations.
Finally, even though its Kangoo Z.E. van recently changed its charger inlet from a Type 1 to a Type 2 connector, Renault’s commercial vehicle is also limited to a maximum charge of 3.3 kilowatts. We’ve heard from several sources that this is because the Chameleon charger simply won’t fit under the Kangoo’s already cramped hood.
From what we can tell, it appears Renault views 43 kilowatt rapid charge stations as less important its Zoe adoption rate than CHAdeMO is for cars like the Nissan LEAF.
That may be because the Zoe’s Chameleon charger can refill the Zoe’s battery pack in an hour from empty at a far cheaper 22 kilowatt charging station. In areas where 11 kilowatts is the maximum allowable public charging station output for untethered charging stations, a Renault Zoe would charge from empty to full in two hours.
Two hours may seem like a while, but that’s still far faster than most electric cars on the market today capable of refilling from a fast rather than quick charging station. It also suggests that for now, the 22 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is about as large as Renault is considering for the car, since falling back to 22 kilowatts on a larger pack would make charging take even longer.
Here at Transport Evolved, we’re a little conflicted as to the future of AC rapid charging capabilities. When there’s only 30 minutes difference between a full 22 kilowatt charge and a full 43 kilowatt charge — and 22 kilowatt three-phase units cost far less to manufacture and install than 43 kilowatt units — we wonder if Renault views 22 kilowatts as a more financially-viable public charging station model.
Another, more troubling option is that Renault is feeling the financial impact of poor Renault Z.E. sales at the start of the year, placing it far behind its alliance partner Nissan in the EV sales race. With low sales figures, investing millions of euros in public charging infrastructure could be seen as a fool’s game.
Or perhaps Renault has decided its Chameleon Charger — which is known to have suffered some technical challenges across Europe during the car’s rollout — should be succeeded by another rapid charge technology. Could it even be using its latest agreement with Nissan to ditch chameleon altogether and work on one unified standard across the Renault-Nissan alliance?
Whatever the reasons, we’ll be sure to bring you more if and when this story develops.
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