French Open: Renault Zoe ZE

By Guy Bird for Interior Motives, Jan 2010

Zen and the art of vehicle design in Renault's best new electric concept

Renault ZOE ZE


  • Vehicle type: Concept four-seater small compact
  • Design manager: Stephane Janin
  • Interior designer: Stephane Maiore
  • Colour and trim: Kana Watanabe
  • Project started: February 2008
  • Project completed: August 2009
  • Launch: Frankfurt / September 2009


Supplier Component


  • Alias modelling: NUMERO DESIGN & D3
  • Car frame engineering ETUD-Integrale
  • Electronic systems: AVMJ
  • Tyres: MICHELIN
  • Centre screen content: IDSL
  • Co-branding: BIOTHERM



A crucial influence for Renault’s most ambitious concept car at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show was, according to interior designer Stephane Maiore, “the idea of designing an interior that doesn't look like an interior”. It certainly doesn’t look like a conventional car cabin as Maiore’s sketch – full of oval, round and undulating lines – shows. Renault management’s basic brief was to ask its designers to illustrate urban electric mobility for four people in a fluid, modern and dynamic fashion. The team was also asked to incorporate “in a very futuristic way some genes of the production car”, which is due on European roads by 2012 as a Clio-plus-sized four- to five-seat large supermini with a fully electric powertrain.

A crucial influence for the Renault ZOE concept car was, according to interior designer Stephane Maiore, “the idea of designing an interior that doesn't look like an interior”

The design phase for the ZOE concept started in early 2008. The project was halted at the end of 2008 and re-oriented in December of that year with a new brief. Although the concept of the interior already proposed was largely kept it had to be modified to the new exterior direction, as Stephane Maiore explains: “All the interior design Alias modelling done since February 2008 had to be rebuilt to adapt to the new exterior design and integrate the changes (new seats and floor). We started this new phase about a week after the exterior modelling phase.”

The target buyer for ZOE is an active urban woman, “waiting for novelty in her car”. The mood board reflects themes of reassurance, balance, sharing and well-being and an overall Japanese ‘Zen-like’ atmosphere. Indeed a team from Biotherm, part of cosmetics giant L’Oreal, got involved in the concept to provide a hydrating function that works with the air-conditioning to filter in moisture. As Renault’s head of prospective and concept cars, Patrick Lecharpy explains, “the car acts as a moisturizer so your skin feels better when you get out of the car than when you entered it”. As the mood board confirms, natural forms and specifically pebbles are a key theme for the interior. Both the dashboard and driver console resemble different-sized pebbles, as these early interior models and sketches reveal. Alongside the highly unusual seating (more of which later) they help form an interior that is dramatically different from conventional car cabins and helps fulfil says Lecharpy, “the expectation from EV customers to experience an interior that feels ‘elsewhere’”.

The human machine interface on the dashboard is also very modern. Dispensing with almost all physical controls the IP is free to remain an uncluttered space. Instead, the IP is covered with an intelligent membrane that responds to the light touch of a finger to access a range of controls. The concept also allows for fully customisable ambient lighting which can be manually adjusted by the driver to suit his or her mood, or automatically via a sensor in the seat to match the colours of the driver’s apparel. Otherwise, Lecharpy says the default colour and trim and lighting shades in Renault’s future EV cars will be yellow and blue. NB The Japanese doll pictured is not an advanced 3D avatar but merely an attractive toy accessory.

Another important detail of the ZOE’s interface is a computer-generated avatar displayed on a TFT (Thin Film Transistor) screen that is housed inside a ‘glass bubble’ on the upper dashboard and which becomes a source of driver information from navigation data to battery charge. The idea – as already seen on the Lincoln C concept at 2009’s Detroit show – is to humanise the advanced technology onboard and contribute to driver calmness. To avoid being stuck with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ virtual driving companion – an irritation already encountered with some of today’s satnav voices – drivers will be able to download and use an avatar of their choice from the internet.

The seating in the ZOE concept is highly unusual in form and layout. The shape is much more organic than current conventional seating and their relationship to the car is fundamentally altered too – the seatback and headrest attaching to the car’s ceiling and fully separate from the pebble-like seat base. Rear seats still fold flat though, to allow for maximum storage possibilities. The moisturising Biotherm air vent already discussed is part of a climate control system that has two additional functions. In ‘Detox’ mode a toxicity sensor can shut off air vents and extract harmful substances while filtering the cabin with ones beneficial to the skin, and in ‘Active scent’ mode, essential oils suited to the mood of the driver – for instance to stimulate concentration when night-driving – can be carefully added to the cabin environment.

Another important detail of the ZOE’s interface is a computer-generated avatar to humanise the advanced technology onboard and contribute to driver calmness

One of the most striking features of the exterior of the concept that also heavily affects the interior is the honeycomb-patterned roof that creates striking dappled light effects inside. These honeycombs are photovoltaic cells that can recover solar energy to power the climate controls. The roof also has an intelligent protective membrane to insulate the occupants from heat and cold. Beautiful details abound in the ZOE concept including these curvaceous foot pedals with circular patterning to reflect the Zen garden-like concentric circles carved into the vehicle’s interior floor.


The inside panel controls of the dramatic scissor doors convey a mixture of the natural and the man-made, combining the graphic look of a vine and leaf with a computer circuit board, to help reinforce the clean-emission, but highly technical, nature of the vehicle. The innovative design of the rear butterfly-style doors is also noteworthy, as they double up as boot openings to allow the user a potentially useful side access point to the luggage space – i.e. from the pavement rather than in the road – handy if cars are parked closely together.

  • Length: 4100mm
  • Width: 1840mm
  • Height: 1516mm
  • Wheelbase: 2605mm


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