With the presentation of the new generation of the Renault Scénic, converted into an electric SUV with a fuel cell range extender, the manufacturer shows its commitment to the hydrogen as an alternative fuel. Luca de Meo, CEO of the Renault Group and Gilles Vidal, Vice President of Design have spoken with the magazine Coach about the decisions taken by the French company regarding keep the Scénic in its offer and equip it with this technology.
Luca de Meo: “Hydrogen is an unlikely alternative in the short term”
Renault has recently revealed two hydrogen-powered concept vehicles, including the new Scénic, and a van for its HYVIA industrial range. However, for Luca de Meo, the head of the French automobile group, electric cars powered by hydrogen are an unlikely alternative in the short term.
The hydrogen has to play their part in the industrybut this requires overcoming the challenges related to the production costs of technology, fuel and recharging infrastructure. This was stated by de Meo after the world presentation of the Scénic Vision, which uses a range extender based on a hydrogen fuel cell and months after showing the Alpine A4810 a sports car that will use it directly as fuel.
According to de Meo “Hydrogen has its role: this year we will have a commercial vehicle with this technology for sale and we will work with commercial partners to show it to customers”. However, its viability in private vehicles seems further from reality. “Honestly, who knows,” adds de Meo. The challenge is to reduce costs to levels that are acceptable to customers while installing a charging network. “There are still debates about how to make the electric charging network good enough, and compared to a hydrogen refueling network, that’s straightforward.”
The van Renault Master powered by hydrogen has been developed in collaboration with plug-power, one of the world leaders in hydrogen solutions, which has already deployed a network of more than 100 stations that distribute more than 40 tons of hydrogen per day. It will go on sale this summer in its different variants under the name HYVIA (“HY” for hydrogen, “VIA” for path).
Renault, in addition to selling the vans, will work with the fleet managers to provide hydrogen fueling stations and logistics support. “For some fleets, battery-powered vans are not a solution, just a barrier,” explains de Meo. “They discovered that they would have to buy two vans instead of one: one works while the other recharges. Hydrogen can solve that problem.”
De Meo also revealed that the Renault Group is working on tests of a hydrogen combustion engine directly into a racing car, as part of the philosophy explored by the Alpine A4810. This year, Plug Power joined the Alpine Formula 1 team as a sponsor, with a specific goal: “to explore different mobility solutions”.
Gilles Vidal, vice president of design: “If the technological development of batteries reaches a sufficient level, and it does so quickly, hydrogen is dead”
Gilles Vidal explains to Autocar the reasons that have led Renault to create such a different Scénic in its fifth generationn compared to the previous four. Not only because of its propulsion system, but also because it changes its design to become an SUV that is slightly above the Mégane E-Tech in size.
For Vidal, Scénic is a concept that defines an interior, that is, no matter how the exterior is designed. ”So far, we have created four Scénics in minivan format. Perhaps it was to be expected that the fifth would maintain that concept, but we are not going to do that. For me, Scénic is a statement: it’s about how you live in a car.”
In addition to maintaining the interior, family soul, which is the DNA of the Scénic ‘brand’, Renault wanted to give it an ecological sense based on the sustainability of its materials. “After four generations of the Scénic, the world has changed a lot. The car is almost 100% recyclable, but we want to dig even deeper. All manufacturers can add sustainability, but we have added it visibly inside the car through the floor and seats and outside through the bodywork.”
The Renault Scénic will only have electric versions. The electric motor from the Scénic Vision it inherits it from the one mounted on the higher power version of the Mégane E-Tech. It is an electric motor 160 kW (218 hp) which is located transversely under the front hood. The battery that powers it is, however, the smaller of the two available for the Mégane, with a capacity of 40 kWh. This decision is explained by the inclusion of a 15 kW hydrogen fuel cell located under the floor that recharges the battery when the car is running. This autonomy extender allows to reduce the capacity of the battery and therefore its weight in exchange for adding new elements to the power train.
Regarding this decision, Renault has a very broad vision that Vidal wanted to explain very clearly. If the technological development of the batteries reaches a sufficient level, that is, a high energy density, a high recharging power and a long useful life (limiting its degradation due to the use of ultra-fast recharging), and it does so quickly, “hydrogen is dead”.
Nevertheless, the right strategy for a company like Renault “it is to be everywhere to be able to react to the advances of the industry and customer demand: we need to experiment, because one day a hydrogen car could make sense”.
Initially, in 2024, the production version of the Scénic will feature the CMF-EV platform of the Mégane E-Tech. At that time, the new hydrogen experimental platform, which will house a battery, a motor, a fuel cell and a hydrogen tankIt will still be in the development phase. Renault estimates that from the next decade, the hydrogen refueling network it will have grown large enough that it is unlikely to be implemented in production models before then.