They participated in the development of the modern electric vehicle. However, the BMW i3, Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoé will not be replaced directly!
Symbol of the automotive future, the electric car was imagined… as early as the 19th century. But after decades of prototypes and mass-produced models at the end of the 20th century, the modern electric car really was born in the late 2000s.
It was at this time that what we see as the first generation of electric vehicles that go beyond the production phase in dribs and drabs emerged among the generalist brands. If, under the impetus of Carlos Ghosn, Renault quickly showed great ambitions in terms of connected vehicles, it was in fact Nissan’s ally that attracted the electric vehicle, the Leaf, presented in 2009 and sold in 2010. at the same time, fellow countryman Mitsubishi launched the small i-Miev, rejected by Citroën and Peugeot.
For Renault, the electric offensive began with Twizy, Kangoo and Fluence, launched in 2011. It was in 2012 that the star Zoé was presented in its final form. Then it arrived at dealerships in 2013. That year, BMW introduced its first 100% electric model of the i family, the i3. Volkswagen, in turn, offered the e-Golf.
Whether it was a real ambition to enter the electric market as soon as possible or a marketing opportunity, with electric cars becoming the show stars and therefore media aftermath at the turn of the 2010s, these brands took on a small competitive lead.
But these models have quite a particularity: they will be classified without any direct monitoring, or even they already are! The e-Golf was discontinued a few years ago, as was the Mitsubishi i-Miev. BMW recently halted production of the i3. The Nissan Leaf will stop in 2023, while the Zoé will disappear in 2024! We can also cite the example of the Hyundai Ioniq, the first electric model for the mass market in Korea, which appeared in 2016, and which has just been withdrawn from the catalog.
Were these precursor vehicles resounding failures, with commercial failure being the main reason for non-renewal? Not always. If some, it is true, did not shine, others had an honorable career. BMW thus sold 200,000 copies of the i3, a good score considering the prices and the curious look. From its first generation, from 2010 to 2017, Leaf found 300,000 customers. The second generation set out to do better.
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The scores of these vehicles should be viewed in hindsight, taking into account the avant-garde side of their datasheet. Above all, we have seen increased demand over the decade, often associated with improvements. Perfect example with Zoe. First a niche product, it ended up reaching the mark of 100,000 copies sold in a year in 2020. Meanwhile, its autonomy has doubled, the charging network has developed, the opinion of drivers has evolved.
But then, why do these models that first introduced the electric car and then began to democratize it disappear? The reasons are diverse, but one of the main ones is that they are vehicles that were used as a “draft”. Clearly, the first cars that were designed to develop this type of engine on a large scale laid the groundwork, for technical or marketing purposes. They were, therefore, valuable lessons and feedback.
Changes in strategies
These cars are disappearing with the arrival of a second generation of modern and more successful electric cars. With an evolution of the commercial strategy: the electric model must no longer serve only the image, it must also end up being profitable. The electric vehicle’s place in the range has therefore been redesigned. The peculiar unique vehicle gives way to a coherent family, which fits into the rest of the brand’s offer.
The e-Golf has retired in favor of the ID.3, while on the BMW i3 customers are being directed towards the Electric Mini, an all-new model being developed for 2023. BMW has also opted to offer simpler electric versions of its well-known models such as the X1. The “multi-energy” model is more economical, and prepares the ground for the exchange with the end of the thermal plant.
Another reason is market trends. If the electric car could at first play the originality card, now it must follow customer tastes in order to sell well. Thus, at Nissan, the Leaf, with a compact silhouette, will be replaced by a sexier SUV coupe. The Leaf name can, however, be kept, as it has acquired a good reputation.
And this notoriety, which goes hand in hand with a good backlog of customers, is a precious asset in the automotive industry. However, Renault will get rid of Zoé! A rather crazy bet, because thanks to its progress, it has become in France and Europe one of the symbols of the city’s electric car. Also, saying “I drive a Zoé” is enough for the general public to understand “I drive electric”. There are few models that make themselves known in this way.
But there will be no Zoé 2 (in 2019, it was a major restyling)! Because ? Because the city car will be replaced by the R5. So, to better symbolize the democratization of the electric car, Luca de Meo, CEO of Renault, chose to reinterpret an old popular Renault. And in passing to play the sensitive chord of neo-retro, like the Fiat 500, whose electric version was very successful.
Zoé will therefore disappear. To reappear better in a few decades?