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Original Fluence ZE concept illustration. The car never caught in with the public in Europe.

Short, Sad Life of Renault's Fluence Z.E.

The death of Better Place doomed Renault's electric car... or did it?

By Bill Moore

In order to save then-troubled Nissan Motors, a scheme was hatched more than a decade ago(1999) to create an East-West alliance with French carmaker Renault. Skillfully guided by the hand of Carlos Ghosn, the alliance has survived and largely thrived, especially Nissan. Under Ghosn's guidance, it introduced the LEAF, which just passed the 100,000th units sold milestone. The car is produced in Japan, England and the United States.

On the French-side, however, their comparably-sized sedan, the Fluence Z.E. has been a sales disappointment. So much so, that the company stopped producing the five-passenger, electric sedan - maximum range of 113 miles - last November 2013. Now Globes in Israel is reporting that the production line in the Turkish factory assembling the car will be closed. Production first began there in 2011.

Actually there were two versions of the Fluence: the battery swap model engineered at considerable expense for Better Place, the failed US-Israeli electric car network operator; and a fixed battery model, which was sold - in limited numbers - in Europe. The collapse of Better Place in May 2013, after losing an estimated $800 million setting up swap stations across Israel and a few in Denmark, was a major blow to both companies' plans. Early on, Better Place had announced that it would eventually order as many as a 100,000 units of the car, which it had hoped to lease both to individual consumers and corporate fleets.

Swapping the battery in a Better Place car took less than two minutes. Leases were supposed to be comparable to or less than running a IC engine car in Israel where fuel costs in the neighborhood of $10 a gallon.

For whatever reasons - styling, function, marketing, technology, price (€26,000) - the fixed battery version of the car available in Europe never gained the kind of traction enjoyed by its Alliance partner's electric car, the LEAF. As Fluence sales stalled, Renault management opted to cut its losses starting late last year, selling its surplus vehicles for a fraction of their original price. And if you decided to buy one for as little as £7,000 ($11,450USD) in the UK, for example, you still have to lease the battery from Renault for £75 ($123USD) per month.

The demise of the Fluence ZE still leaves Renault with the Zoe electric city car, the Kangoo van and the Twizy one-person runabout, which has turned out to be more popular than the Fluence, probably because of its cheap price and appropriate sizing for urban environments.

As for the lamented Fluence, it turns out the platform isn't entirely dead. You see, Renault also owns this Korean carmaker, Renault Samsung and one of the models they began producing in 2013 is the mirror image of the Fluence called the SM3 ZE. It is the clone of the Fluence fixed battery model. When Better Place declared bankruptcy, Ghosn said the company would never again offer a battery swap version of its cars.

We can only assume that Renault has strategic reasons for continuing the platform in Korea, where the government is said to be actively promoting the development of EV technology. Will the SM3 ZE be more successful there than in Europe? Only time will tell.

Times Article Viewed: 13492
Published: 20-Jan-2014

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