Test-Driving Renault's All-Electric Car at the Frankfurt Motor Show

electric car hybrid frankfurt auto show plug-in prototype side photo

At the Frankfurt Motor Show this week, Renault announced that they will be mass-producing 100%, completely electric cars, ready for the road by 2011. In an audacious move, Renault is betting on electric rather than hybrid, and putting all their research and development talent behind its creation.

There are 4 conceptual cars being developed, and the Kangoo Be Bop Z.E. will be the first to go. It's the only one in the world and this TreeHugger had the chance to be one of the first to test-drive it yesterday in Frankfurt, courtesy of Renault. It was an exciting and futuristic experience.

The Kangoo Z.E. (Zero Emissions) will be suitable for family and commercial use. It's meant to be an affordable, green car at an entry-level price. Its success is predicated on the gamble that the rising price of gas will make electric seem more and more attractive to consumers. Plus it has zero carbon emissions at a time when every country is under pressure to reduce theirs.

More on all of this next week, let's just hop in the car.

The Kangoo already exists in France, as a gas car, so this prototype is a modification.

electric car hybrid frankfurt auto show plug-in prototype dashboard photo

The seats are comfortable, the interior is modest but roomy. The dashboard is clean and the instruments are easy to see except for the indicator for drive and reverse which is rather small.

electric car hybrid frankfurt auto show plug-in prototype trunk photo

The car is a roomy four-seater but that still leaves lots of room for the trunk which is big, with lots of space for storage.

It starts up just like a normal car. There are only three speeds: neutral, drive and reverse--very simple; sort of like a scooter.

You have to press hard to accelerate. The car will go from 0 to 50 km. in 7 seconds. Its maximum speed is about 113 km. per hour.

It drives smoothly and easily. We drove along country roads and the highway. My Italian colleague drove like a Formula One racing car driver, much to the horror of the Renault people, and he declared himself very pleased with the car's response. I drove like a nervous nelly and also found it easy to manage and responsive.

The one eerie thing is the noise. Or rather, the lack of it. There is no sound. There has been some criticism of this, for safety reasons, and a sound-track will be developed so that pedestrians can hear it.

electric car hybrid frankfurt auto show plug-in prototype gps photo

There is a GPS system on the dashboard. It will not only direct your route, but it will also show where the closest recharging stations are located. A key factor because the car's driving range is 160 km. According to Renault's research, 87% of all trips in the city are shorter than 60 km. so this should not be a problem.

electric car hybrid frankfurt auto show plug-in prototype plugin photo

Charging the car's lithium battery can take place at home, or on the street. Renault is developing 3 different kinds of battery charging facilities for customers.

The verdict: pretty exciting to drive the only model in the world. And an easy and driver-friendly car to handle.

More on all the insider scoops on Monday.

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