What does the demise of the Renault Fluence Z.E. say about new technology?
It’s a reflection of how quickly technology is evolving at the moment, particularly within the sphere of electromobility. Renault quite rightly investigated battery swap technology ahead of the Fluence Z.E.’s launch in 2011, but the high price of the stations, collapse of project partner Better Place last year and prevalence of rapid chargers has pushed the market in another direction.
That’s a direction Renault is equipped to handle. With alliance partner Nissan, it’s helping green utility company Ecotricity to roll out a network of rapid chargers along motorway routes. I’ve used two stretches of this Electric Highway, in a ZOE and a LEAF, and while it’s not quite as convenient as a three-minute refuel and hundreds of miles of range, it goes a long way towards making EVs viable for longer trips when the need arises.
Meanwhile, it’s looking like Europe will standardise the Type 2 charging connection and Combo Charging Standard in the coming years, and manufacturers are switching en masse to the compatible on-board technology.
But just as quickly as this has made most of Renault-Nissan’s latest EVs a lot more useful, it’s made the Fluence Z.E. look like old technology. It has the wrong charging port, so isn’t compatible with either side of the Ecotricity units, and there’s no option to charge on a 32-amp home or office wallbox. The result is a full refuel taking between six and 12 hours, depending where you charge, and a lot less flexibility than the newcomers.
There are a number of nascent eco-friendly technologies breaking through and, as yet, it’s unclear which one will become dominant. As the pace of change quickens in its search for the replacement to the Cine film era of petrol and diesel cars, I wonder if any of the current crop will become an automotive Betamax in the process.
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