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Our friends electric, part 2

July 14, 2011 – 4:01 pm

The Twizy, one of Renault's new electric cars. Looks like a toy, sounds like a sweet, 100% clean and green. You'll be seeing it on Seville's streets this autumn.

Last year I wrote a blog post about a BBC project to send an electric car around Europe, to find out a) how easy it would be to locate charging points, and b) how the public reception of an electric car on such a 7,000-odd km odyssey would be. They had a few sticky moments in both cases, finding places to charge the car’s battery, and a few puzzled locals, but it was a great idea, both as a travelogue, and an eco-awareness-raising piece.

Since February, you’ve been able to rent electric cars here in Seville, through a “car-sharing” system, whereby you reserve your wheels by phone or internet, by the hour. Cochele has 12 cars available, though it’s not cheap – you pay a monthly fee and then a (fairly steep) hourly rate, plus a km rate too.

There are now six collection/charging points around Seville, including car parks in Arjona (near the bullring) and Plaza de la Concordia (the main El Corte Ingles); the model they use is the Think City, the same as the BBC journey used. Seville is the first city in Spain to offer this service, and an added bonus has been that they’re not liable for the 45-minute time limit in the city centre (although this system is being withdrawn by the new mayor).

So Seville already has an electric car “presence”. Which may well be why Renault has chosen the city as location for its launch and trial of its new range of electric cars this autumn. In October and November, 10,000 Renault salesman will be converging on the city to try out these amazing pieces of high-tech motoring. There are four models in the Renault ZE (Zero Emissions) range: the Kangoo van, which is available for sale from this autumn; the snazzy, futuristic Twizy (sounds like a sweet), from March 2012; family saloon Fluence, from Autumn 2012; and the Zoe clio-type hatchback, from mid 2012.

You will see all four types being driven around the streets of Seville, when sales people from over 30 countries try them out. Apparently there will be 75 charging points around the city by then, to keep the 200-300 electric vehicles going. Running out of juice and causing traffic chaos in the middle of Colon wouldn’t enhance Renault’s public image or the general reputation of electric cars among Sevillanos, although it would certainly raise a smile.

The Kangoo, Fluence and Zoe don’t look much different to your average petrol or diesel-powered vehicles, so it’s great that the Twizy, which is a real head-turner, will be put through its paces – it would come into its own in the narrow streets of Santa Cruz, as that’s exactly where mmini cars triumph. The few times I’ve driven there, I’ve always been terrified of actually getting my (fairly wide) car stuck between the walls of the houses, so close together are they built.

Twizy – who makes these names up? Is it a chocolate bar? Is it a whistle sweet, or one of those long stringy ones? Is it a kids’ comic? No, it’s a bizarre-looking little two-seated car which will whizz (twizz?) you around at speeds of up to 80km/h, for 100km – so you could get to the beach, as long as there’s a charging point there to power you up for the homeward journey (which I doubt). It takes 3.5 hours for a full charge, so that’s enough time for some sun-soaking. The other models, however, take six to eight hours – that’s rays, a swim, lunch and a good siesta, and perhaps even a coffee too, to wake you up for the trip back home.

The Kangoo has a range of 160km, and is considerably faster, with a top speed of 130k/h, with the Fluence (I keep wanting to type “Fluidasa”, or “fluoride”) a little faster and longer-ranged. It costs just under 20,000 euros (the Flu is just over), about double the price of the conventionally-fuelled version, so you’ve got to have a pretty damn successful small business, or well-paid job, to maintain a green transport policy.

I’m intrigued as to how they will plan these “urban circuits” – will it be like The Italian Job, with a procession of small cars whizzing (sorry, twizzing) along our streets, and then reversing back down them when they get lost? Triple parking when they stop at a bar for a caña? The potential for, er unfortunate incidents, is massive. In any case, Seville will be Renault cite this autumn, with its multicultural group of sales people bound to bring some excitement to the city – it’s an Expo Renault ZE. Just as long as they don’t expect their beautiful new technologically ground-breaking cars to come away without a few dents and scratches. Just part and parcel of the fun of driving in Spanish cities.

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