FULLY CHARGED | TRANSPORT NEWS – Jordan Gilliland takes to the EV market with the Renault Kangoo

Jordan Gilliland takes to the EV market with the Renault Kangoo

THERE is no question to it: There’s an electric future in the automotive world and the reality is that it’s coming upon us fast.

Some European cities already plan to phase out sales of diesel vehicles and the UK recently announced it would ban new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035. We will all be living a clean, green future in a matter of decades.

So, when the offer to drive Renault’s entry into the, albeit niche, electric light-commercial vehicle market came up, there was zero hesitation in having the chance to peek into what we can expect.

Dreams of lightning speed, emission-free road trips and hauling furniture around filled this writer’s head. Living in the small, regional community of Bowen in Northern Queensland, it’s a rare occurrence to spy an EV.

The lack of electric cars in the region does beg the question though: Why don’t we see more green-loving battery powered vehicles around the stunning tropics? With seemingly endless access to the sun, solar panels could practically fuel a car for free.

Bowen is also one of the few locations on the Queensland Electric Super-Highway, the world’s longest EV charging network in a single state, so there seems to be no reason why it couldn’t be more popular.

The first trip after picking up the Kangoo ZE gave a startling insight into why the uptake of electric cars has been slow in regional Australia. On a mild, north Queensland day you would expect to see almost 200 km of combined driving to a tank of e-fuel, more than enough to transport you from point A to point B.

But get the Renault out on the highway for a long country drive and the 200 km of range quickly diminishes to about a third lower. In fact, as the Kangoo made its way up the highway from Airlie Beach to Bowen, you can watch the fuel level fall before your eyes quicker than you can think to yourself: “What’s the electric version of a jerry can of petrol?”

The unfortunate reality of this meant commuting the 150 km round trip yours truly does to work most days disappeared.

Working out of a two-storey office in Airlie Beach and parking in a public car park also meant there was no ability to recharge during the day.

The use of a 7.4 kW charging unit, which a business could install on its premises, will charge up a fully-depleted battery in six hours. Renault claims a traditional home powerpoint will charge 100 percent in 11 hours, which when testing at home seemed about right.

The Renault lacks the capability to use the fastest charging stations available, limiting its recharge abilities on the go.

The real-world implications of this low range mean the van wouldn’t be suited for businesses that need to travel larger distances throughout the day, such as plumbers and electricians, although plugging it in between jobs would obviously extend that range.

For those living in regional communities, it also means the van couldn’t be your only transport if you were a sole operator.

Those in the country may not have caught on yet, but the numbers do show Australians are looking to manufacturers for electric cars. The Electric Vehicle Council of Australia says 6718 full electric and hybrid plug-in vehicles were sold in 2019, up from 2216 the year before. Over the same period sales of combustion engine cars fell 7.8 per cent.

When you look at the Kangoo ZE’s price, this uptake into eco-friendliness is a slightly bitter pill to swallow. Pushing upwards of $50,000, it’s possible to almost buy two Kangoo Maxi in diesel trim for the price.

Of course, the upside to the ZE is reduced running costs. Cheap electricity, no diesel or lubricants and a simple electric motor sitting where the engine should be means there’s less opportunity for mechanical issues too. Plug the van into some solar panels and you’re rolling around town for less than a packet of batteries.

Importers often say the small amount of EV vehicles sold in Australia is due to a lack of government incentives. In the case of the Kangoo ZE, there would be a strong argument such policies could be the extra push buyers need to justify the move from petrol power.

At this point you could be forgiven in thinking the experience with the ZE was negative, but once you drop the pretence of large amounts of highway driving, and put the “little blue van that could” to around-town duties, it actually starts to make sense.

Peering out from the almost fishbowl like cabin, this 180 cm driver had no issues with visibility from the bulkhead forwards. Large side mirrors, reverse-parking sensors and a reversing camera in the rearview mirror made for easy manoeuvring. Although the rearview did feel a little moot with a bulkhead in the way.

Don’t expect luxury in the cockpit, but the Kangoo was never made to chauffeur the French elite. Hard plastics are used throughout and the seat could do with more bolstering, but it never made for an uncomfortable drive.

Side pockets in the door felt cramped and glovebox space was short. But a cavernous cubby in the middle of the dash large enough to lose your wallet, or perhaps a small child, more than made up for it. The most disappointing piece of interior was the almost useless cup holder which sits in the centre console. Not deep enough to hold a water bottle securely, every hard brake would see a chance of your drink flung forwards. This writer wasn’t game to give a cappuccino a go.

Driving around town, the engine which previously felt a bit gutless at highway speeds now seemed the perfect choice for someone delivering potentially delicate cargo. Despite making a seemingly paltry 44 kW, the Renault uses its 226 Nm of torque well and provides fantastic linear response.

Having never driven a battery-powered car bigger than a golf cart before, there was great glee taken in the zippy launches only the electric platform can perform. A regenerative brake system means with careful planning your stop-pedal touching can be almost non-existent. The Renault’s brakes felt responsive if needed though.

The regenerative system is a great idea, but the only indication of it regenerating is a dial telling you you’re making negative power. This means you’re left in the dark as to how much is really going back in, unlike some other EVs.

With its 4000 litre cargo capacity, left and right sliding doors and rear barn doors as standard, and multiple tie-down points, there’s no doubt the ZE is a well thought out package as a vehicle for business.

Overall, the Kangoo is a great light-commercial vehicle and Renault should be applauded for taking the chance on importing the all-electric version. However, there’s no question the ZE fills a specific niche that given its high price and lack of range, Australia might not yet be ready to partake.

But just because it’s not ready now, doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future and manufacturers like Renault will be the driving force in making the electric vehicle the norm in all categories.

For $50,000 plus, it stands a difficult proposition to suggest the ZE to anyone except the fussiest environment lovers, but it’s a great start to changing the nation’s view on its electric future.

Long live the internal-combustion engine, we will remember you.

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