Electric drives are now also used for delivery trucks. The Renault Kangoo Z.E. is the first of its kind. Unfortunately, electric cars have the image of being unreliable–especially in winter. We have explored this issue.
The Renault Kangoo Z.E. is indeed a pioneer in its segment, as it is the first electric truck that has reached production maturity. But can this new technology hold a candle to gasoline and diesel engines? In winter, even diesel-powered vehicles experience problems from time to time. And electric vehicles have an operating range that hardly suffices for morning run to the nearest Starbucks. That’s why we have tested the electro-deliverer under icy winter conditions. If emission-free drive technology is to prevail, it must reliably do its job in winter as well.
The thermometer at the former military proving grounds in Münsingen in the Swabian Alb showed 10 °F (-12 °C). The test vehicle had remained connected to the charging station overnight and the batteries were fully charged. A green symbol lights up in the combo-display, as long as the vehicle is connected to the socket through a charging cable.
How Does One Charge an Electric Vehicle?
The user faces the first problem even before the battery can be charged: Mennekes 2. This is the name of the charging cable connector. It does not fit into any domestic power socket. That’s why a charging station is necessary. They are not cheap. Charging the Kangoo Z.E. is mere child’s play once the right socket is available. Just plug in the cable, and off you go. But it takes about six hours before a discharged battery is fully charged. For all practical purposes, the electric transporter will therefore usually be charged overnight. The Kangoo Z.E. cannot be started during the charging process. This means remove the plug, insert the key, and start the engine. A gentle hum could be heard, and a green “GO” lit up as a prompt to start driving.
From behind the wheel, the cockpit of this “electric Gaul” does not look much different from the standard Kangoo. The driver sees a battery-capacity indicator instead of a tachometer, and the fuel gauge is replaced by a so-called econometer. This instrument shows the driver whether the vehicle uses energy or generates it through braking-energy recuperation. Instead of the gearshift lever, there is a four-position selection lever reminiscent of an automatic transmission. Parking (P), Neutral (N), Reverse (R) and Drive (D) can be selected.
The Electric Transporter Has the Floor
A shrill signal sounds as soon as the driver selects a drive mode. This is how the vehicle alerts other traffic. And off we go. Part one of the test focused on range. The on-board computer reported 52 km (32 miles). This is not very much, but you couldn’t expect more at 10 °F (-12 °C). The transporter was not loaded during the test drive. However, the heating worked at full capacity to make the temperature on the inside somewhat tolerable. The low-beam lights were on, due to bad visibility. Both factors, surprisingly, did not make a big difference on the predicted distance. The French car still had to get through 22 miles (35.6 km) of country roads. Afterwards, there was the city circuit with a length of 1.8 miles (2.9 km) and 13 stops per lap.
The Kangoo moved almost soundlessly over the snow-covered country road. The noise level at 31 mph (50 km/h ) is two decibels lower than in the diesel version. The noise advantage only disappears when the Kangoo is driven at over 50 mph (80 km/h). Wind and tire noises are predominant. The maximum torque of 167 lb-ft (226 Nm) provides fair propulsion at low and medium speeds. However, the elasticity of the Kangoo Z.E. are rather moderate. The 60-HP electric motor takes approx. 14 seconds to accelerate the transporter from 37 to 50 mph (60 to 80 km/h). Accelerating the French truck from a standstill to its maximum speed of 80 mph (130 km/h) felt like an eternity.
Its Strength Lies in City Traffic
The top speed range is not likely to play much of a role during daily operation of the Kangoo Z.E. It excels more in city traffic. However, one should not expect to be able to drive too fast there, either. ESP and ASR are not installed. The energy savings are used by the Renault to increase its range. Only ABS is installed. It is clearly noticeable when driving on snow and ice that the control systems for driving dynamics are missing. Drivers also have to get used to recuperation while driving on slippery surfaces. It kicks in like a brake parachute as soon as the driver takes his foot off the accelerator. This stops the vehicle rather quickly, even on an incline. Careful handling of the accelerator pedal makes it possible to combine recuperation and constant, fast downhill driving.
Intermediate score: the energy consumption after 22 miles (35.9 km) is nine kilowatt hours (kWh), according to the instrument panel. The lithium-ion battery has a capacity of 22 kWh. This type of battery retains approx. 20 percent of the charge. This leaves approx. nine kWh for the city circuit.
City Circuit Drains the Battery
The average speed on the country road had been 34 mph (54.7 km/h). After the city circuit, the average value dropped to 20.6 mph (33.2 km/h). The numerous stops during the laps drain battery capacity. The Kangoo Z.E. manages 14 miles (23 km) with half the battery charge in simulated city traffic. A warning signal is sounded after exactly 32.3 miles (52 km). The charge level of the battery is precariously low. A red battery symbol lights up on the instrument panel. Drivers on public roads should now quickly look for a charging station.
The situation in the cab became critical—at least for the electronic system. About 3 miles (5 km) after it came on, the red symbol started to flash. The signal sound was frantically repeated. In addition, the Kangoo Z.E. reduced the power. It took nerves of steel to measure the range of an electric vehicle. After 36.6 miles (58.9 km), the end came, and the E-Kangoo would not move one inch further. Z.E. owners can call the Renault towing service if this happens to them on public roads. Their vehicle will then be towed to the next charging station within a 50-mile (80 km) distance.
New Test in Warmer Weather
Two days later, at an almost cozy 32 °F (0 °C), we give the Kangoo a second chance. We want to know it all. The prediction of the combo-instrument is a range of 34 miles (55 km)—at least 2 miles (3 km) more than for the first test. The test result is even more favorable. Again empty, with the heating turned on, and low-beam lights, the Kangoo Z.E. this time manages 41.7 miles (67.1 km). The country road part was just as long as before, but the transporter turned a few more laps in city traffic.
The Kangoo Is in Good Company
The performance shown by the Kangoo during the test is in line with previous experiences regarding electric drives. The Renault managed 106 miles (170 km) on the test stand. Had it really managed to do that also during the test drive, it would have been sensational. Electric vehicles are not suitable for long distances. This is still due to the limited capacity of the batteries. This has improved in recent years, but the evolution will go on for a long time. After all, electric vehicles should one day allow mobility without fossil fuels—both in summer and in winter.