SINGAPORE — At first glance Renault’s Twizy is high on ‘Awwww’ factor. The electric vehicle’s styling makes it look like a Pokemon character, and it is so tiny that three of them could fit into a normal car’s parking space.
With small size comes small performance, however. The Twizy’s weedy 17-horsepower motor hustles it to a top speed of just 80km/h, and there is room for only two people in the narrow cabin.
It has neither proper windows nor air-conditioning.
And on home ground the Twizy is classified as a ‘quadricycle’ instead of a car, which allows it to bypass various regulations about things like lighting and safety equipment.
Yet, 11,000 Twizys have already been sold around the world, and Renault thinks it could be an important feature of Singapore’s traffic landscape.
In some new towns there is still a ‘first mile/last mile’ for people to walk, even if there is an MRT or LRT station serving the area, says Arnaud Mourgue, an operations manager for Renault’s Southeast Asia office. That is one example of a mobility gap the Twizy could fill.
Punggol is one such area, he says. “You don’t have a big supermarket there. Inhabitants there first have to take the LRT to the closest MRT station, and then travel to a supermarket. You can imagine for all the families there, (the Twizy) would enable them to be able to shop more freely, and at an affordable price,” says Mr Mourgue.
How affordable? That depends on how you look at the vehicle.
The Twizy, for all intents and purposes, is a car; it has four wheels and a steering wheel, and essentially you drive it like any normal Renault.
But if it were taxed like a car and required a Category A COE (or Certificate Of Entitlement) for registration, that would push its price past $90,000 — far too much for something so basic and slow.
Instead, Renault would like to see it used in a car-sharing scheme. You get off the MRT, pick up a Twizy, drive home to your block and leave it there. Someone else does the opposite trip.
The car has a range of 100km, and can be topped up at any normal three-point power outlet in three-and-a-half hours.
Mr Mourgue says it would require a fleet of roughly 200 Twizys to provide meaningful coverage and ensure that one of them is never far away from a potential user.
Another way to make the vehicle viable would be to have it classified as a motorcycle.
Renault dealer Wearnes Automotive has proposed this to the Land Transport Authority, and says that the Twizy would cost around $25,000 with COE if it could be taxed like a bike.
The catch is, it doesn’t handle like one. Even the smallest motorcycles have better acceleration and a higher top speed, and they can weave through traffic to keep from getting stuck in jams. Unlike the Twizy, which is slim but not that slim.
It’s also easy to imagine a wave of Twizy buyers competing with motorcycle riders for COEs, pushing the price of a Category D certificate from today’s $4,289 to $10,000 and beyond.
That said, there is probably a natural upper limit to how much a Twizy could cost before a small, used hatchback looks like a much better alternative. $30,000 with COE is the tipover point, says a senior Wearnes insider.
The Twizy is not meant to be a motorcycle anyway, says Christophe Di-Perna, the territory director for the Asia Pacific region at Renault.
He points out that in Europe you need a driving licence (for a car) to operate a Twizy, and that while it is safer than a motorcycle, it does not offer the same maneuverability.
“A bike is a bike. You can cruise in between the cars, but that requires some attention and vigilance,” says Mr Di-Perna, himself a motorcyclist.
His wish is for some sort of COE concession for the Twizy, given the vehicle’s small size. “Maybe Category A with a very strong discount, based on the car’s footprint?” he says. “I’ll leave that to the LTA.”
And it is the LTA, above all, who will decide on the fate of the Twizy here. It’s a quiet, clean vehicle that takes up little room when parked, but to price it like a car would be to doom it.
Some sort of new categorisation would give it a chance, and pave the way for similar vehicles to be sold here, like Honda’s MC-beta.
“Sometimes regulations have to change to adjust to the way technology is evolving,” says Mr Di-Perna.