Like a cat with nine lives, Renault’s five-seat Fluence Z.E. electric car — which ultimately ended European production after poor sales and the bankruptcy of Israeli battery swap firm Better Place — is heading to a new life in China.
That’s according to Renault Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who told Reuters yesterday that the French automaker was ready to build the Fluence Z.E. for an unnamed Chinese automaker for sale on the Chinese market. As soon as Renault has been given the appropriate permission by the Chinese government, construction will begin.
Originally designed by Renault for use with Better Place’s battery swap technology, the Renault Fluence Z.E. was powered by a front-wheel drive 70 kilowatt electric motor under the bonnet and a 24 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack mounted behind the rear seat.
Unlike the Nissan LEAF, which houses its 24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack under the floor, the Fluence Z.E.’s upright battery pack was designed to make it easy for the battery pack to be dropped out and exchanged at a Better Place battery swap station in under five minutes. Because of this however, the Fluence Z.E. had a markedly higher centre of gravity than its cousin, something which was noticeable as increased body roll in corners and less refined handling over the LEAF.
Because it was designed primarily for use with battery swapping, the Fluence Z.E. also came without any on-board rapid charging capabilities. Instead, only a 16 amp, 3.3 kilowatt on-board charger was offered, with those wanting rapid charging capabilities expected to use battery swap facilities where available.
With no publicly-accessible battery swap facilities outside of Israel, not to mention a sedan rather than hatchback body style which made it less popular with car buyers, the Fluence became a car primarily used by fleet operators in Europe happy with its limited 80-90 mile real-world range.
But while Renault quietly stopped European-market Fluence production at the end of last year, prompting us to ask if the Renault Fluence was a good buy for those looking for plug-in car ownership on a budget, the Fluence Z.E. gained a second life in South Korea, where a partnership with South Korean firm Samsung saw a revised version of the Fluence Z.E. enter production.
With upgraded electronics and a three-phase, 44 kilowatt Chameleon charger similar to the one found in the Renault ZOE Z.E., the Samsung SM3 Z.E is far more practical for everyday life than the original European-spec Fluence Z.E. ever was. Even with limited load bay functionality — the rear seats can’t be folded down and luggage space isn’t great — the charging versatility of the South-Korean Fluence means the car is proving popular with buyers.
It’s not clear what specifications will be used for the as-yet-unnamed Chinese brands Renault intends to build the Fluence Z.E. for, but given Renault’s long-standing relationship with Dongfeng, we’d guess the Fluence is set to appear alongside the Dongfeng Venucia e30 at a Chinese motor show in the near future.
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