From concept car to today: ZOE’s design, as told by her designers

Published by on 07.07.2020 - 4 min

Launched as a concept car in 2009, then rolled out for mass production in 2012, Renault ZOE’s customer community and fan base grow every day. We take a look back at the model, now an icon for Groupe Renault and electromobility in a wider sense, together with the designers behind the project: Raphaël Linari, Design Director at the Renault Design Center in Seoul and exterior designer of the ZOE Z.E. Concept in 2008, as well as Agneta Dahlgren, Design Director, Electric Vehicles.

Hello Raphaël and Agneta. You were both involved in the ZOE project right from the get-go. What were your design briefs, objectives, restrictions, and new challenges regarding the novelty of the electric car when it came to developing the ZOE Z.E. Concept car in 2009? What about the 2012 mass-production version?

Raphaël Linari (R.L.): When you develop a concept car from zero, there are far fewer technical restrictions. Being in charge of exterior design, I was able to have much freer rein when it came to the architecture and proportions of the ZOE Z.E. Concept. For example, the batteries and electric motor are located in the best possible spot to create a really streamlined, dynamic profile. It’s such a pleasure to be able to tailor the technical elements to the style!
With the technical hardware placed this way, we were able to optimize the interior space. We wanted it to feel as spacious and relaxing as a Japanese garden. So we were able to fit in these fantastic armchair-style seats shaped like huge pebbles and have this flat floor with the wavelike shape of a Zen garden.

Agneta Dahlgren (A.D.): The ZOE Z.E. Concept and the mass-produced version, which I was in charge of, were developed at the same time. Our market research showed that switching to an all-electric car was a huge step for consumers and could be unnerving. That’s why the mass-produced ZOE is pretty different from the concept version. We wanted a car with a big personality, but not too different from what was already on the road, to reassure the public. The ZOE has a character all its own, but without being completely alien to the user.

Agneta Dahlgren & Raphaël Linari
Agneta Dahlgren & Raphaël Linari

To what extent did you draw inspiration from the concept car?

A.D.: We kept its “Zen” side, its individuality and its touches of blue. We also retained the rear door handles integrated into the window contours, a nod to the coupe design.
The interior also draws inspiration from the feel of the concept car, with simple, natural shapes that make for a real feeling of well-being onboard. The whole cockpit is designed to express the cool, calm nature of the ZOE, its purity and non-polluting qualities, notably with light colors. Our competitors followed our lead on that point!

design ZOE concept interior

How is the design of the ZOE still so current, even eight years after the model first launched? What’s in its style DNA, which distinguishing feature will be passed down through the generations?

R.L: The ZOE exudes “efficient sensuality,” a great balance between form and function, and pure aesthetics that are timeless. That’s something that the concept car and mass-production version have in common. Plus, both cars have very expressive “faces” that get a positive reaction. Ever since their launch, they have proven that an electric car can be as easy on the eye, and on the driver, as any traditional car.
So for me, the mass-production version of the ZOE has become yet another icon in the Renault collection, just like the Twingo or Clio.

A.D.: ZOE is, and will always be, a car with character. Over the years, it has gained in maturity and personality. You might say that ZOE has graduated from childhood to adolescence; its individuality is stronger, with a design that’s as fresh as ever.

 
With the ZOE Z.E. Concept, being able to tailor the technical elements to the style was a joy! It allowed us to optimize the interior, which is as spacious and relaxing as a Japanese garden.
Raphaël Linari Exterior designer of the ZOE Z.E. Concept car in 2008

New ZOE uses recycled materials for its interior trim. Is this decision part of the eco-friendly ethos of electric cars?

A.D.: Absolutely. We had already been working on it for a while, but developing new recycled materials calls for touch tests, durability tests, and soiling tests, carried out in conjunction with subcontractors who really care about their work. All of this takes time, especially because, for ZOE, these materials are not simply recycled: they are part of a real circular economy, notably with the re-use of seatbelt offcuts.

Renault ZOE

Continual technological innovations (new motor, evolving battery capacity, energy efficiency requirements, etc.) must surely influence, even restrict, your design work, right?

A.D.: Sure, there are restrictions, but they can be both negative and positive. Using the same platform as the first model limited us when it came to the vehicle’s overall build. But by playing around with the proportions – using height, a distinct and elevated beltline, slim elongated headlights and by placing the wheels at each corner – we managed to successfully create a car with a solid yet lightweight design.
For New ZOE, we came up against new restrictions. Fitting the double charger behind the logo meant that the diamond had to be positioned more vertically, but that suits our ZOE especially well! We also came up with solutions to offer our customers front fog lights as a new feature, for example.

R.L: Each new technology represents new opportunities for a designer. For example, the use of LEDs for the headlights and other lights translates very differently between the concept car and the mass-produced one.

 
Over the years, ZOE has gained in maturity and personality. You might say that it has moved from childhood to adolescence. Its individuality is stronger, but its design is still as fresh as ever.
Agneta Dahlgren Design Director, electric vehicle range

How do you both see Renault electric cars changing in terms of design in the years to come? Further restrictions, or conversely, more freedom?

A.D.: The fact that we designed a dedicated platform for electric vehicles within the Alliance is a factor that has enormous benefits for the customer. It makes it possible to free up more space in the car, which means more useful volume and also more storage space. In the future, it will be one of the strong arguments in favor of Renault electric vehicles up against competitors who have made different choices.
Plus, the long wheel base and short cantilevers, which are possible thanks to the electric motor and this new platform, offer cars new proportions with elegant lines.

new ZOE
R.L: It’s clear to see, maybe even more on ZOE than on other models, that design and technology are always closely connected. A car like ZOE, electric by design and with constantly-updated technology, is part of the pioneering strategy of Groupe Renault. No doubt that this strategy will allow it to confirm its leading position in the electromobility sector for years to come.

 

Copyrights : Groupe Renault, Yannick BROSSARD, PLANIMONTEUR, Frithjof OHM, Frithjof Ohm INCL. Pretzsch