When it comes to electric cars, French automaker Renault — and its alliance partner Nissan — are among two of the most determined to see a plug-in car in every driveway with more than 200,000 electric vehicles sold worldwide. As such, we’ve seen both companies work hard over the past few years to tweak their respective lineup of electric vehicles to make them more affordable, more practical and more cost-effective for both manufacturer and owner.
So far, those modifications have included a new battery pack chemistry and more efficient drivetrain and heating system for the Nissan LEAF, as well as the recent announcement from Renault that it would finally make its ZOE and Kangoo Z.E. electric vehicles available to buy with a battery pack included.
Now we’ve learned that Renault is poised to improve its popular ZOE electric hatchback for the 2015 model year with an improved battery pack as well as an all-new motor and power inverter which will help increase overall range by as much as 30 kilometres (18 miles) over the current model year ZOE.
What’s more, we can expect to see the new motor debut at next year’s 2015 Geneva Motor Show.
We first heard the news via Comité des Constructeurs Français d’Automobiles, which claims that the all-new motor and power electronics system will offer the same 65 kilowatt power output as the current ZOE, but at a much higher efficiency.
Unlike the current motor and Chameleon charging and inverter system, which is made by Continental for Renault, the new motor and power electronics will be made by Renault in Cléon, France. Once implemented into the 2015 ZOE, the engine will also find its way into Renault’s Kangoo Z.E. commercial vehicle, replacing its existing previous-generation motor. And since the motor is around 10 percent more compact, there’s even chance it could find itself into a smaller, future, all-electric model.
Improved home charging — at the Cost of 43 kW capabilities
Like the current Renault ZOE, the new ZOE motor will use the car’s built-in inverter — used to provide the correct amount of power to the three-phase AC motor used to drive the car along — to double-up as the on-board charger.
When it first launched, this meant that the original ZOE could charge from any power source from 3 kilowatts single phase to 22 kilowatts three phase using the supplied type-two cable that came with the car. For higher-powered, higher-speed charging, the ZOE could charge at up to 43 kilowatts AC three-phase from a dedicated, tethered AC quick charging station.
This meant that it was possible to charge a ZOE from empty to full in under 40 minutes from a suitable charging station, or just an hour from a 22 kilowatt three-phase charging station. But because the original ZOE was designed with an emphasis on higher rather than lower-power charging, it meant that the on-board electronics were inefficient and slow at charging the car at from a lowly 3 kilowatt domestic charging station.
The result? ZOE owners complained about long charge times, inefficient charge cycles, and reduced usability.
The new ZOE motor and power electronics have been designed to make lower-speed charging more efficient and convenient, but as a consequence have dropped support for 43 kilowatt three-phase rapid charging.
This means that the new ZOE — and thus the new Kango Z.E. — will be able to charge at best from empty to full in one hour. Compared to the previous ZOE motor, this is a doubling of recharging time from a rapid charge station, which may put some buyers off the car. For commercial fleet operators looking to buy an electric van, it means a dramatic improvement over the underpowered 3 kW-only charge mode of the current Kangoo Z.E., and may win Renault some commercial sales from its alliance partner Nissan.
Although there’s a net reduction in charging speed for those who pick the new, more efficient, longer-range ZOE drivetrain, Renault notes that the majority of owners charge at speeds between 3 and 11 kilowatts on a daily basis: rapid charging at 43 kilowatts represents a tiny proportion of daily ZOE use.
New and Old
After hearing the rumor, we contacted Renault for further comment and have been told by an Renault spokesperson that the new motor and power inverter system will be unveiled at next year’s Geneva Motor Show.
In addition, our contact confirmed that 43 kilowatt AC rapid charging capability will be absent from the new motor and therefore the quickest charging speed of any ZOE or Kangoo Z.E. fitted with the new motor will be 22 kilowatts. Under most circumstances, this should result in a 0-80 percent charge in about an hour from a suitable three-phase, 22 kW charging station.
What’s interesting however, is the news that Renault plans to still offer the older motor to customers who want it, at least initially, offering new and old together. This means customers can choose from improved range and efficiency at the detriment of slower rapid charging, or stay with the older, more inefficient motor and battery pack in preference for 43 kW rapid charge capabilities.
At the moment, there’s no news what the price difference between new and old drivetrains will be, but as always, we’ll bring you more when we have it.
[Hat-Tip: Ad Van Der Meer]
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