It’s been more than a quarter of a century since French automaker Renault has been seen in North America. In fact, the last time Renault sold cars in either the U.S. or Canada was 1989, just two year after it sold its share in American Motors (AMC) to Chrysler.
In the intervening time, Renault has undergone several changes, including a failed merger with Volvo, some hard financial times and more recently a successful partenership with Japanese automaker Nissan. It has also become one of the largest electric automakers in the world, offering not one or two but four different plug-in models.
Now the smallest of those — the tiny two-seat all-electric urban runabout known as the Renault Twizy — could be the first Renault in 26 years to go on sale in North America.
As our friends over at GreenCarReports detail, Renault will be displaying the diminutive Twizy at the the upcoming 2015 Québec City International Auto Show, which opens to the public tomorrow.
It cites a local French-language publication in Québec, which confirms that Renault has submitted the Renault Twizy to Transport Canada for approval to be sold and used on roads in North America’s largest French-speaking region. The submission appears to have taken place following numerous requests from fans in North America keen to get behind the wheel of the electrified go-cart.
Unlike the Renault ZOE electric hatchback, Renault Fluence Z.E. electric sedan and Renault Kangoo Z.E. Electric van, the Renault Twizy Z.E. isn’t’ classed as a full-size vehicle under European law. With a top speed of just 50 miles per hour for the Twizy 80 and 28 miles per hour for the Twizy 45, the former is classified as a heavy quadricycle under European law, meaning it can be driven by anyone with a car license or a motorcycle license. The latter is classified as a light quadricycle under European law, meaning it can be driven by anyone with a car, motorcycle or moped license — even a provisional moped license — in most countries. In France, the lower power Twizy 45 can even be driven sans permit, or ‘without a license.’
In the U.S. and Canada, both vehicles would fall into the category of low-speed neighbourhood electric vehicles, or NEVs for short. Restricted in most states and provinces to local surface streets and gated communities with a posted speed limit of 45 mph or slower (local laws vary), the Renault Twizy could find a place in the market current occupied by vehicles like the GEM, Kurrent and now-defunct ZENN.
Importantly, this class of vehicle — as with the European counterpart ‘Quadricycle’ classes — doesn’t have the same tough crash-test requirements as full-size, highway-capable vehicles, meaning its easier for Renault to homologate a vehicle for the low-speed market than it would be to homologate one for the full-size market.
Indeed, Renault says in its current state, none of its other electric vehicles would meet tough Canadian or U.S. crash test standards. While it might be fairly easy to make cars like the ZOE or Kangoo comply — it’s worth noting most European makers sell cars in North America without a problem — certifying a vehicle for the a brand-new market is a time-consuming and costly business.
We should note too, that unlike other NEVs, the Renault Twizy comes with an F1-engineered chassis, four-point front seat harness, three-point rear belt and front driver airbag.
While the Renault Twizy initially debuted as a two-seat urban runabout with doors and windows optional, it has more recently spawned a couple of innovative variants, including a 1-seat ‘cargo’ variant –where the rear seat makes way for a locked cargo area — and a six-wheeled concept vehicle called the Twizy Urban Delivery Concept. If granted permission to sell in Canada, Renault would sell the conventional two-seat and one-seat cargo Twizy, but since the Urban Delivery Concept is still undergoing testing in France it wouldn’t be heading west any time soon.
It’s worth noting too that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Renault Twizy head to North America. When the Twizy first launched back in 2012, it took part in a whirlwind tour of New York City, a locale perfectly suited to its tiny dimensions and funky, up-beat style.
Other cars have entered in the United States and Canada through third-party routes, often coming to North America to be used by private collectors. To our knowledge however, few are used on the roads.
There’s also the matter of battery rental too. While a Canadian purchase price hasn’t been set, the Renault Twizy is offered in Europe from around $10,000 for just the vehicle. The battery — part of a mandatory rental agreement — costs extra, and continues for the life of the vehicle.
Given there are far cheaper neighbourhood electric vehicles and in fact full-size cars available for less, we’re not sure how quickly the Twizy will catch on. But as a niche market car to sell alongside vehicles like the Smart ForTwo, we think it might just have a chance.
Would you like to own a Renault Twizy for your round-town errands? Would you consider buying one for a bit of fun? And if you live somewhere like Québec, where temperatures stay below freezing for months at a time, would you be able to use a vehicle with no on-board heater?
Leaver your thoughts in the Comments below.
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