Zoe at the Nambling Salt LakeThe Renault Zoe is a top seller in Europe and arrived in Australia towards the end of 2017. It was the first new model to get here since the BMW i3 landed back in 2014. It’s a long break between drinks in this part of the EV world with a small but determined set of politicians and Murdoch media allies trying to preserve Australia as a relic of industrial revolution technology. Notwithstanding their best efforts Australia is joining the world community of electrified transport with another four models due to be on sale here by year end – from Hyundai the Kona and Ioniq, the updated Nissan LEAF, the Kia Niro and the Jaguar i-Pace. The Tesla model 3 is nowhere in sight at the moment but with the production ramp-up we may get it towards the end of next year.

Back to the Zoe. A big shout out to Melville Renault for biting the bullet and bringing the Zoe and Kangoo ZE electric van to Western Australia. It was our good fortune to get hold of the Zoe for a day to take a trip out to a little known place called Nambling which is 8kms from a more well known (at least locally in WA) called Dowerin. Thank you Sam at Renault Melville for providing the Zoe. The trip from Perth to Nambling is 149kms so we’ll round that up to 150 and call the journey a 300kms round trip – just about the maximum range of the Zoe. The Zoe was about 86% full when we set off.

So it was up the Darling Scarp, a low escarpment rising from the Swan coastal plain. It was pretty much uphill a fair chunk of the journey with speeds ranging from 80kms to 100kms so not the most ideal trip in terms of power conservation. However with regen braking, we would recoup quite a bit of energy on the return journey. From a driving perspective the Zoe performed beautifully – hugged the road well, had plenty of acceleration when needed with a good driving position and comfortable seating. There was nothing lacking and for my co-pilot Brian, on his first EV drive, it was a bit of an eye opener and he was more than impressed with the car’s overall performance. I’m sure getting back in his Jeep would have resulted in that sinking feeling of knowing he was reverting to old tech whose day in the sun was drawing to a close.

With so much driving uphill and at higher speeds we arrived at our destination, the Nambling salt lake, with 124kms of range left. A salt lake? Salinity is a huge problem in the bush for Australian land holders. It’s a scourge that has been exacerbated by land clearing. With no trees acting as pumps to expire water from below ground the water table rises and carries salt to the surface. When the salt gets close to the topsoil the area of the lake becomes pretty much lifeless as can be seen from the accompanying photos. But this particular salt lake which is divided by the road has special significance. Some of you may know I’ve been involved in tree planting for many  years and back in 2002 the not for profit organisation to which I volunteer, Trillion Trees  (formerly Men of the Trees), delivered literally tons of mulch to the lake. It was spread around the barren edge of one side of the lake and then placed in extended ‘fingers of mulch’ on to the lake itself. There were perhaps 60 to 80 of us that day armed with wheelbarrows and shovels to tackle the mountain of mulch. We then planted our biodiverse, endemic local species of trees on the mulch beds.

Nambling Salt Lake planted 2002It was an experiment and we couldn’t foretell the results. My visit in the Zoe was the first time I’d been back to inspect it in sixteen years. We’d planted thousands of trees that day in a bid to arrest the spread of the salt. The results as you can see from the photos are quite incredible. The side of the lake we planted up is now covered in trees while the side across the dividing road is a lifeless dead zone. Some of our trees are still struggling to cope with the unfavourable conditions while others have staked a very definite claim on the land.

In the photo on the left you can see the side of the road we mulched and planted back in 2002.

The picture beneath is the side of the road we left untouched. The dead trees you see in the picture were killed off decades ago when the salt took over this piece of formerly productive land. The scourge of salinity not only kills the soil, it also corrodes and damages roads and buildings. The amount of land affected by salt is considerable. An unintended consequence and harsh lesson from uncontrolled tree clearing.

The side of Nambling Salt Lake we didn't plantBack to the Zoe and off we went for the journey home. Now we have 124kms on the clock to do a journey of 150kms so we stopped in Toodyay and found a 10amp outside plug to hook up to. We then passed some time at the local hotel grabbing a bite to eat while we waited for the charge. We left it a couple of hours and didn’t get a lot of additional power in the batteries from the 10amp but combined with the regenerative braking on the downward slope it was enough to get us home although I must say towards the end of the journey I was counting on the battery gauge being accurate. I arrived with just 14kms to spare with the battery warning light complaining quite alarmingly.

So first trip in the Zoe – brilliant – it is a great little hatch and ideal for city commuting. With a range of 300kms it is certainly adequate for any city driving and based on the average daily drive for passenger cars in Australia, which is a mere 38kms (ABS), you’d only need to charge this up once a week. As most EV drivers know however you tend to ‘fill it up’ at home when the car is sitting idle. For longer journeys it is perfectly equipped with fast charging capability provided the infrastructure is en route.

My major complaint about the Zoe is the price – at $51k drive away this is still an expensive car although the upfront cost will be somewhat alleviated by the minimal servicing and very cheap running costs. As the oil price continues to head north the Zoe will become even more economical as time passes. It will be interesting to see if that price sticks or Renault reduces the sticker price when the competition in the form of the Kia Niro and Hyundai Ioniq arrive later this year or early 2019. The rumour is both these vehicles will be around $10k cheaper with not a lot of difference in range or appointment.

Just as a footnote I’d encourage visitors to support Trillion Trees (trilliontrees.org.au) in their vision of planting a trillion trees to help secure the future of the planet. Donations are tax deductible. Once again a big thanks to Sam at Melville Renault for providing the car.