I believe most people know this, but Nissan and Renault SA are, for the most part, the same company.
When Nissan was on the ropes (to say the least) in the late 90s they entired into a tie-up with Renault SA, which lead to Renault owning owning 44% of Nissan (and Nissan owning 15%ish of Renault). Later that same year saw the entrance of CEO Carlos Ghosn, and the exit of just about everyone from Nissan’s executive in Japan. A total power play.
Ghosn put out the “Nissan Revival Plan,” and one of the most stunning turnarounds in the history of automotive management occurred. Today, with the Nissan LEAF going worldwide, and the Fluence ZE in Europe (and other selected regions), Ghosn is wagering both companies’ future on electric technology.
Moving on. So why no Fluence ZE in America?
The first answer is obvious. I’m not seeing a lot of Renault dealerships around towns in the United States…that is unless of course I am travelling to one of them in my shiny new TARDIS and can go back to the 1980s to buy a car.(apologies to those who don’t get the BBC and/or have never seen Doctor Who). Still Renault could re-badge it pretty easy as a Nissan…they have done pretty well selling the Renault Clio as a Nissan Versa. (and a few other versions around the globe)
Secondly, is that although Americans would really much rather own a ‘booted saloon’ over a ‘hot hatch’ (I really only penned this piece to use my European dialect), the Fluence ZE is quite simply a inferior car in almost every way.
Both the LEAF and the Fluence ZE are about the same size, they compete in the compact car market (or ‘C-segment’ as it is know to the rest of the world), they both feature the same 24 kWh battery, the same basic technology, they both go about 100 miles, you could argue the Fluence ZE has a advantage because it has been engineered to have a battery that could someday be swapped out.
But you would be wrong, here is why:
The LEAF is a ‘built-up’ car, meaning it is custom formed to do its job; to get people from A to B with electricity, as efficiently and in as ergonomically friendly way as possible. The Fluence ZE is a conversion (albeit a very good one) of a internal combustion vehicle already in production, and therein lies the problem with it.
Sure we’d like a snazzy looking saloon here, but judging the cars by their appearance would be a mistake.
The Fluence ZE is heavy, and not as aerodynamic as the LEAF, and therefore to ensure a sufficient range (100 miles) the engine has has been retarded down to 95 bhp from the LEAF’s 107 bhp, and the top speed is capped at 135 km/h (that is around 83 mph to us Yanks), whereas the LEAF will go over 145 kmh (90 mph). For Americas, 90 mph is about the lowest acceptable maximum speed (even though few drive that fast), a cap of 83 would be a big issue.
Then there is that whole ‘what about where the battery goes?’ thing Again, the Fluence ZE is a conversion, so the battery could never fit neatly under the seats, tucked away so you wouldn’t notice like in the LEAF.
Made even worse is the fact the car is built to someday make use of ‘swap stations’ for the battery; which sounds great in theory – a fully charged car in 2 minutes thanks to a fresh pack at your local station…until you realize that there is about 3 of them in the entire world. If you leave France’s only ‘swap station’ the next closest is in Israel. /kinda far
This ‘easy access’ battery also means that, at least for now, you have this huge pile of batteries boxed up from the floor to your line of sight, behind your rear seats. So much for the convenience of the ‘boot’ in your ‘saloon’ over a hatchback. To be fair though, Renault has tried to reconcile this somewhat by extending the hind section of the car by 4 inches. It didn’t work.
Then there is also the handling. While it is true I have never driven a Fluence ZE (and I doubt Renault will be flying me overseas to do so anytime soon), I can’t imagine 500+ pounds sitting on top of the back wheels is doing much for the weight distribution of the car.
So given the choice between the LEAF and the Fluence ZE, the Renault only gets marks for being visually more appealing, which may have sold Nissan a handful of re-badged cars stateside, but without the prospect of swappable battery stations throughout North America, the Fluence ZE is a total non-starter.