General Motors is touting the long-range and affordability of its Chevrolet Bolt electric car and its Opel Ampera-e sibling but for now Renault is ahead with its Zoe, which is Europe's best-selling EV.
Renault has given the Zoe a more powerful battery that almost doubles its driving range on a single charge to 400km (249 miles), up from 240 km.
Opel claims its Ampera-e can travel even further on a single charge at more than 500 km. However - unlike the Opel EV - the upgraded Zoe is available to buy in European showrooms now. The Ampera-e will not go on sale until next year. The Bolt, on which the Ampera-e, is based will launch in the U.S. at the end of the year.
The Zoe is affordable for an EV. In its French home market, the upgraded Zoe costs 23,600 euros ($26,500) before incentives, with battery rental starting at 89 euros a month. Current Zoe owners can upgrade to the new battery pack for 3,500 euros. Opel has yet give prices for the Ampera-e. GM says the Bolt will cost $37,495 (34,226 euros) in the U.S. and buyers may receive a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for a net value of $29,995.
Renault and Opel base their range data on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC). Using the World Light vehicle Test Procedure (WLPT) that replaces NEDC in Europe next year, Opel says the Ampera-E's range is closer to the range of the Bolt’s 383 km (238 mile) as certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The reason for the different ranges of the Bolt/Ampera-e and the Zoe is that the Bolt and Ampera-e are compact cars so are bigger while the Zoe is a subcompact so they can have more of the same LG Chem lithium-ion cells than the Zoe. The Bolt/Ampera-e pack is rated at 60 KW-h and the Zoe's at 41 KW-h.
These cells are the key to the impressive range of both cars. Renault says they have double the energy density of those in the lower-range Zoe, which has a 22 KW-h pack.
"The goal was to have additional energy in the same volume without modifying the structure of the car," Renault's EV project leader Marianne Bataillon told me at the Paris auto show.
Who really is first with an affordable long-range electric car is not important. The big news is that battery technology has progressed to the point a significant number of buyers will now be comfortable with the range and the price of a pure electric car.
Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said at the upgraded Zoe's unveiling in Paris that the automaker has "removed the final psychological barrier" for customers to switch to an EV. The Zoe can now be driven around the city for a week on a single charge, he said.