Currently, Renault’s most high-profile fleet customer, Australia Post, is operating two Kangoo ZEs in Melbourne on a trial basis to gather information for both parties on real-world range and usability in Australia’s automotive climate. An additional pair will enter service in Sydney soon.
While Renault is playing it cautious before it embarks on a proper rollout in Australia — a market it has criticised for lacking government subsidies for EVs, as well as other incentives to keep costs down — it has nevertheless received inquiries from fleets interested in ‘green’ halo vehicles.
Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar told us recently that the company had about five serious considerers engaged in talks about extending its ZE fleet offering beyond the postal service, but also made the caveat that a slow and steady rollout was essential to being a proverbial canary in a mineshaft.
There are many things to consider. You cannot just lob an EV van onto the market unless you have servicing capacity and roadside assist policies in place, to mention just a few. And Renault, despite massive volume growth over the past few years (up 50 per cent this year alone) remains a small player with a small budget, in the grand scheme.
“We’re still having discussions with other interested parties, and there’s some good interest from global and local companies,” Hocevar said. “But we’ve got to be careful how we step with it, sometimes they [companies] can be more ambitious, but we want to make sure when we do it we do it right.
“The worst thing could be is we sell them to people and we're not able to provide the infrastructure or another party involved in the equation can’t service their needs. It would be remiss of us if we didn’t make sure those stakeholders were lined up, because otherwise it's going to jeopardise the launch.”
Hocevar said the strategy in getting an electric van off the ground, with all the positives — cheap running costs and green ‘cred’ — and negatives — higher cost and lower driving range — was about going right back to basics and dealing with potential clients on a one-to-one basis.
"There’s people that really believe in it, they’re the early adopters, they say ‘I believe in this and I really want to give it a go, and yes there’s a premium at this stage, I know there's no incentives, no subsidies, I just want to do it’,” he said.
“[But] That’s not the sort of volume yet to give us a sustainable model line, so we’ve got to be careful how we bring it to market, and that’s where we are at the moment with Kangoo ZE. We’re not taking the typical planning to the make you order vehicles, do a press launch, wholesale to the network, run marketing… to create a new category it’s really going back to basics and working on a very 1:1 level.”
The timeline on when we might see ZEs at dealer level, and doing the rounds in guises other than the signature Australia Post red paint, is fuzzy, but Hocevar has a clear idea.
“I think when it comes to Kangoo ZE we can be realistic. I’m going out on a bit of a limb here… on doing something in the next 12-24 months.
“… If we can do it earlier… because we’ve got customers, an infrastructure provider in the right location, and that they’re prepared to have an ongoing dialogue with us on how its working, what are users finding and tripping up on, that could accelerate us.”
The Renault Kangoo uses an electric motor with 44kW of power and 226Nm of torque, fed by 22kWh lithium-ion batteries that take up to eight hours to recharge via a household power outlet to provide a 170km total driving range.