Quiet innovative!

Sirish Chandran  /
09 May 2013 16:12:01 IST

The Fluence ZE (Zero Emission) is quite similar to the Nissan Leaf in almost every respect. It has to be, both cars were built jointly by Nissan and Renault. The only difference being that the Nissan from the ground up was designed and developed principally as an electric car, whereas the Fluence ZE is a mid-size sedan repurposed as an electric car.

The electric Fluence shares battery technology with the Leaf, which is manufactured by a joint venture between NEC and Nissan in Japan. In the Fluence, the lithium-ion battery capacity is 22kWh and the entire stack weighs 250kg though technically

it along with the electric motor adds around 300kg to the curb weight of the car when compared to the standard IC engine Fluence. The FluenceZE has an energy recovery system which comes into effect the second you step off the throttle. It works like

a brake regenerative system except here you do not have to apply the brakes to

begin recharging.

The Fluence being a sedan first and an electric car later had to undergo certain critical changes to accommodate the battery pack. In the Leaf the battery pack forms part of the floorpan, but the same could not be emulated in the Fluence. Hence the battery pack had to sit in the boot behind the passenger seat. To accommodate that stack of batteries, the length of the car had to be extended, which isn't perceptible to the naked eye; you must use a tape measure. What you can see is that the storage space in the boot is now considerably smaller than in any standard sedan.

Driving the Fluence is a bit eerie. You turn the ignition and apart from an electronic beep there is no familiar rumble. The electric motor makes 70kW of peak power at 11000rpm and maximum torque of 226Nm. Shift the transmission into drive and you feel the familiar tug an IC engine makes when power is channelled to the drive wheels. Acceleration is brisk with maximum torque coming in very, very early. Renault claims that the top speed in the electric Fluence is capped at around 135kmph. At those speeds the battery will provide a range of around 70-80km. On the instrument console instead of a fuel gauge you have a battery charge indicator alongside a consumption meter. The meter allows drivers to regulate the charge consumption by indicating just quickly the battery is discharging at any given point.

Driven sedately at speeds of around 40-60kmph, the battery in theory should provide enough charge to travel a distance of around 140kmph. That however is an unlikely scenario in the real world and 80-100km on a full charge is more realistic. Apart from the whine of the charging system there is absolutely no sound nor is there any vibration of any sort, no rumble, spit or roar which makes driving an EV a relaxed affair.

Charging the batteries can be done in one of three ways, either a full overnight charge via household supply mains (10A or 16A, 220V) or a quick charge at fast charging stations using 32A 400V supply which provides up to 80 per cent charge in just around 30 minutes. The third charging option is a unique solution that Renault is implementing first in Israel. In that system you simply drive into a battery exchange station, where a QuickDrop battery switch system will enable the depleted batteries to be replaced with ones having a full charge in just three minutes.

Renault also recently announced the cost of ownership of the Fluence ZE. In France for instance the price of the car is expected to be around Rs 13 lakh with roughly a maximum of Rs 3 lakh tax deductible included. But interestingly rather than include the cost of the battery in the sticker price (batteries in an EV are the most expensive bit) Renault intends to lease the batteries out for a monthly charge of around Rs 4200 per month. The life expectancy of the batteries is claimed to be around 8 years and Renault claims that overall cost of ownership should be as expensive as a diesel car over the same period.

So while the Fluence ZE may not be

a ground-breaking electric car, it's certainly an innovative solution to owning one.

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