Zoe, the Cute Affordable Little French Electric Car

By · March 20, 2012

La Renault Zoe, une voiture électrique française

The Renault Zoe is a French-built EV.

There are already two electric models in the Renault lineup, but neither are very interesting. They are electrified versions of gas cars. The Zoe isn't. This is a clean sheet design, the first real electric car from the French brand, fully designed with the European driver in mind. Renault expects it to be a hit, and it has built production capacity to go with that ambition. The factory in Flins, just West of Paris, can build 150,000 each year. The battery will be built there too, starting next year, while the motor will come from the Cleon factory, further West, to make the Zoe a true French car, a rare feat these days.

The Renault Zoe's interior

The Renault Zoe's interior

The Zoe was unveiled in Geneva, with instant success thanks to its cuteness. Many people criticized the Nissan LEAF because of its unoriginal design, but nobody will say that about the Zoe. Renault has been a leader for decades in designing small cars, and this model matches the company's history. The Zoe looks good from every angle, and it was even nicer to discover the interior with its fantastic sky blue seats. It's always awful at a large motor show to see hundreds of cars with their interior a boring grey or a dull beige. Let's have more interior with bright colors. The dashboard was not as nice. It doesn't look automotive. There's a big touch screen in the middle that looks like a smartphone, and in some ways, it is one. Renault says it is an "integrated and connected multimedia system," and users will be able to download apps for it at the R-Link store. The Zoe is the first car to get it, but it will also come to its gasoline models. Of course, it has several specific features for the electric car, like showing the car's operating radius with a map of all charging stations (depending on country), as well as their real time availability. That may sound nice, but it may prove superficial for a while. It's important for a car to connect with its environment—but the most important is the wheels connect to the road, and how the driver connects to the driving experience via the steering wheel.

Carlos Ghosn introducing the Renault Zoe in Geneva

Carlos Ghosn introducing the Renault Zoe in Geneva

The Zoe is front-wheel drive. Its motor gives 65 kW and 162 lbs-ft of torque. Top speed is 84 mph. This is not a car for the autobahn, but it'll be perfect for everyday driving, with a 130 miles range according to the European calculation methods. Renault concedes that real-world range will vary, and that it could go as low as 62 miles if the air conditioning is used to the max. But for many drivers, the normal range value of about 130 miles is real, and can even be bettered. Some guys last year, in an electric Renault Fluence went hypermiling, and they achieved 20 percent more range than the official value. The Zoe has a 22 kWh battery pack, and Renault explains that it has gained a lot with improved regenerative braking compared to its other EVs. The manufacturer hasn't revealed the Zoe's weight but length is a modest 161 inches, so lightness is expected. Compared to a Nissan LEAF, there's nearly as much room in front, and trunk space is equivalent. Only the back seat is significantly smaller, but it'll be fine for kids.

The Zoe's price is €20,700—about US $26,500 at today's exchange rate. Not exactly cheap, but a Honda Insight costs €22,500 in France. With the French government giving a €5,000 incentive for buying an EV, price is down to €15,700 (or US $20,700). That's two thirds of an Insight. That sounds good to me! The only issue is that this price doesn't include the battery. The battery is rented at a price that varies with mileage and contract's length. The monthly fee is €79, about a hundred US bucks, for a 3 year deal, driving 7,767 miles per year. Still sounds damn good.


· · 6 years ago

“Cute, Affordable“ You forgot fast, as Zoe has a built-in "Chameleon" 43kW quick charger. Next to a LEAF at the same price in a US showroom, I'd pick the Zoe. Such a shame it is not offered here.

· · 6 years ago

I wonder if the charging port is in the front?

KeiJidosha when you say fast you mean as in charging fast correct? The Leaf has more horses and a better top end. I like the styling however.

· · 6 years ago

What can we do with such a car if we only have one car and it's this one, can we go on vacation in the summer, can we do some errands on weekends ? Can we plug it on the street if it's there that we usually park ?

· · 6 years ago

So, a 2-door and a 4-door model? I'll be curious to hear what the specific improvements are in the regenerative braking.

I like the interior -- it looks ready for production; and is clean and uncluttered. I hope they bring it to the USA!


· · 6 years ago

If you count the price of the car 20700 € and 8 years of battery renting 79*12*8=7584, you come at a total of 28284 €, the equivalent of 37052 $.

At that price it is expensive, since you only have a very small car and limited range. Renault should both increase the size to make it a full size car and decrease the price.

As it now stands the Leaf is cheaper because it is battery included and is also almost full size but the trunk.

On the range side, these low values should automatically induce the addition of an optional micro range extender to allow the occasional longer road.

· · 6 years ago

Nissan-Renault may have the best strategy by offering three different business models to sell EVs. You have the Zoe which leases its battery. The Nissan Leaf where the battery is sold with the car and warrantied. Then, the Fluence ZE, where the battery is exchanged at a battery swap station.

Nissan-Renault is perhaps better positioned in this way than any other EV maker and can react to customer demand in any of these three ways. Carlos Ghosn would no doubt love to have Nissan-Renault dominate the Ev market just as Toyota has dominated the hybrid market..

· · 6 years ago

@Priusmaniac · "At that price it is expensive, since you only have a very small car and limited range." "As it now stands the Leaf is cheaper because it is battery included and is also almost full size but the trunk"
You are comparing US Leaf price with EU Zoe price. You should use EU Leaf price.

If you want to include battery leasing price, include the expensive petrol price for ICE cars. Oh, use EU's oil prices, not the highly subsidized US price.

· · 6 years ago

The thing that most intrigues me about the Zoe - besides the cute-yet-angry-looking Pokemon character face headlight/grill - is the so-called "Chameleon" charger. Item 4 from the press release KieJidosha links to in his above post reads as follows . . .

"It is the first electric vehicle capable of being charged at any power level up to 43kW – in between 30 minutes and nine hours – thanks to its integrated Chameleon charger. ZOE’s battery can be charged in approximately one hour at 22kW fast-charge stations which are technically simpler and more economical than current fast-charge stations. This intermediate power level ensures longer battery life and has less impact on the grid than a 43kW charging station."

I'd be interested in more clarification on this one. What makes, electrically speaking, the Zoe different from deluxe versions of the Leaf or iMiEV, which are equipped with both J1772 and CHAdeMO ports? For that matter, what are the porting interface(s) featured on the Zoe?

And . . . what are 22kW fast-charge stations? Are these fundamentally different that the Level 3 DC quick charge stations that are slowly appearing on US roads?

· · 6 years ago

@ EVNow

The prices that I have for both cars are as follow:

36990 € for the Nissan Leaf Battery included
37052 € for the Renault Zoé Battery rent for 8 years included

So it indicates a higher price for the Zoé then the Leaf, especially since you still don't own the battery after 8 years and that the miles per year in the battery rent are limited.

On the long run however both car indeed don't use gasoline and are therefore interesting anyway.

· · 6 years ago

Still not quite sure what makes the Zoe's 43kW "Chameleon" charger so fundamentally different and/or possibly better than what is available in other Renault/Nissan EVs (Leaf, etc.) Anyone know?

· · 6 years ago

Thanks for digging into the actual costs. I guess the Zoe is for those who prefer to pay later while the Leaf is for those willing (or able) to invest (and risk) more up front to get a better long-term deal.

· · 6 years ago

@Benjamin Nead,
I'm also curious. Is Nissan reading from the Tesla playbook and making a charger that can do fast and slow charging? That certainly might account for the apparent lack of a huge port for multiple charging connectors.

· · 6 years ago

Hoops, correction on my last post where I mixed $ and € on the Zoé.

36990 € for the Nissan Leaf Battery included
28284 € for the Renault Zoé Battery rent for 8 years included

So EVNow, you are right, the Zoé is 8706 € cheaper than the Leaf.

· · 6 years ago

Does anyone know how many Daimler SmartForTwo vehicles or Fiat 500s are sold each year in the US?
I'm guessing that this micro-car niche just isn't enough to be worth going after for EVs if it is a pitiful market anyway.

· · 6 years ago

@Priusmaniac · "At that price it is expensive, since you only have a very small car and limited range." "As it now stands the Leaf is cheaper because it is battery included and is also almost full size but the trunk"

The Zoe may well be a very small car for the american market but it's size will be fine in Europe where there are hundreds of thousands of cars of similar size driving around.

· · 6 years ago

@ex-EV1 driver,
Here the U.S. sales data for the Smart fortwo
2008 24,622
2009 14,595
2010 5927
2011 5208
2012 YTD 1265

Here the U.S. sales data for the Fiat 500. It launched in March 2011 in the U.S.
2011 19,769
2012 YTD 5138

· · 6 years ago

Thanks for digging that up. This sounds like a fairly small market to introduce an EV into. Low price, low volume.
It definitely sounds like the Zoe needs to focus outside the US at least initially.

· · 6 years ago

@Masson, nice report

It is interesting that Europe should now be able to produce 150k of the Zoe, 50k of the Leaf and possible 50k of the Fluence and the Kangoo BEVs by sometime next year so in total up to 250k units for 2013. That means Europe will not be behind the US or Japan in the race to build more BEVs.


You did not compare the right prices.

The Leaf sells for €35,990 in France
The Zoe sells for €28,284 including 8 years of battery lease.

The Zoe is clearly more affordable than the Leaf but is has less space at the back seat but also more range than the Leaf. I agree with Masson that the Zoe is a very good deal. Also remember those who buy an EV most likely have a second conventional car so the BEV will be their primary car with the second conventional car used for long trips and vacations. The Zoe is perfect for commuting and errands which probably represent 75% of miles driven by most people.

· Zoe (not verified) · 6 years ago

My name is zoe

· · 6 years ago

> What can we do with such a car if we only have one car and it's this one <

@ Gorr - I guess what we can do is the same thing that many thousands of other EV drivers are doing with their cars - living with them happily and easily. My challenge to you - figure out how EVs CAN work millions of drivers, instead of dwelling on the small hurdles that exist for some drivers now. The answer is that it may not be the best choice for a "one car" household. It turns out that we have untold millions of multi-car housholds that could take great advantage of a small car like this as a replacement for the commuting gas car.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

All the price comparisons in these posts with the Leaf are misleading as they allow only for the minimal battery lease level which limits miles to only 6000 per annum. Lease cost is likely to be double for more typical 12-15k miles per annum.

So not necessarily much cheaper than the Leaf for a significantly smaller car.

· SVL (not verified) · 5 years ago

Some people (in Europe) don't want a bigger car, and this is the first small EV (apart from the Tesla Roadster) to appeal to this crowd. I'll be happy to pay this price for a card that is smaller than the Leaf!
I just hope they offer a 3-door version, not only a 5-door version!

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