Ooh-la-la! Renault ZE’s French head-turner, the Twizy, is slowly appearing on the streets of London. Like eager children in a candy store, we were one of the first jumping up and down asking to be able to test-drive it in town. The public reaction we anticipated, however, didn’t quite match up to the public reaction we got. Aside from the fact that it rained almost the whole time we had the keys for the ‘windowless wonder’, we did manage to catch a few hours of sunshine over the weekend, and took it out to get some feedback.
We find that the Twizy is a bit of an enigma. A tandem quadricycle for all intents and purposes, it blurs the line between car and scooter, or rather it sets its own precedent. Unlike a scooter, the drive feel and front seating position make it much like a small car; but unlike a car, the rear seat and al fresco open plan is very much like a scooter. Being more of a car driver myself it was a very strange feeling to not have to lock anything as I left the Twizy parked on the street. Add to that that this one was the first on the road in the city and I was more than a little paranoid that I would lose the much-admired runabout to illicit hands. Thankfully it was always there when I returned, but always in company of a curious passerby or two.
Always a conversation starter, the Twizy attracts people with its unique looks and by its spot-on design. Importantly it is not over-designed, yet neither is it dumbed-down. Dare I say that it looks like a digital car, or as if a computer designer might have had a hand at designing. The structure is very vertical to allow for all-important headroom and easy entry, whilst clean blocks of form define the front, centre, and rear sections. Two-tone plastics outline the simple graphic shapes that cleverly make negative spaces as important as the solid parts, and exposed wheels with respective shock absorbers look the part. However, the story of how people feel about it is better told in anecdotes…
We met José just off Portobello Road as we left the Twizy on a busy street to watch from afar. He seemed more interested than most, so we broke cover and went to ask what he thought. Early-thirties José, originally from Columbia via New York, is a student of Psychology and Behaviour Science at university in London. He was particularly interested in what we were doing - observing people’s reactions to the Twizy as a social experiment. It was clear that this product awakens a feeling in people that normally proportioned cars do not: curiosity! To discover, then, that it is electric and that the plug simply uncoils from a very discreet holding bay in the front, validates people’s initial affections. He agreed that this sort of vehicle really echoes the social phenomena of the likes of Facebook and Twitter. It is almost their physical personification.
I get some kudos from people for being green and electric, and on the way to our next location a long-legged lady waves me down and asks for a ride. Why not? So she manages to squeeze in behind me and I ask her where she wants to go. “The pub round the corner please”, she says. Excited that I had actually stopped to pick her up she waves to her friends and asks the usual questions; “how much?”, “is it electric”’, “where can I get one?”, and “oh please turn right here”. As we pull up all eyes are on the Twizy and she looks at me in horror as she realizes that exiting the vehicle will not be discrete in her short skirt and long legs. I point out that there is no reason to worry as the gull wing doors open on both sides and she should probably choose the least exposed one. Delighted to have made such an entrance she asks me to take her picture with the car and all I could think was ‘Twiggy’; fitting. She tweets away, and the social bug takes hold.
After a naïve stop at the SUN PUB, where we quickly realised that punters were easily on their third or fourth pint and thus the charging chord quickly became a microphone, we pealed away to a pit stop in Hyde Park.
Immediately after pulling up to the park, the standard questions fly out of a very excited Will. A Fund Raising Manager, he particularly appealed to me because he doesn’t drive. Why? I ask. Because he feels strongly that they are polluting and harmful to the environment. But he had heard about the Twizy becoming available in the UK and leaped across the street to get in the driver’s seat and find out more. “Will, you don’t drive!”, says his friend “I will now!”, he replies. He asks to have his photo taken on his iPhone and starts tweeting as he walks off, with a whole new perspective.
“I just had to stop and take a look, it’s fantastic!”, says a middle-aged Honda S2000 driver, top-down, enjoying the prescribed 3 hours of sun that week. He asks if it’s ours (with obvious early adopter envy), and we explain that we’re just car journos getting feedback from people on how they feel about this new kind of vehicle. Happy that he was not late to the game and that he now had acquired a rare glimpse of the first Twizy in town, Honda S2000 driver continues on with his evening.
These are but a few of people’s reactions to innovation; actually I like to call it simplification. There is so little about the Twizy that is superfluous, apart from the unsightly hands-free Parrot system attached to the steering wheel of this particular model.
It’s difficult to remember the last time a car garnered so much attention and affection from the entire social demographic spectrum (possibly the Smart Car, but it’s not hard to imagine that the Twizy will be on another level in terms of popularity).
In line with this, Renault have recently announced that demand for the Twizy is head-and-shoulders above what their marketing departments had anticipated in the UK alone, which was supposedly a weak market for the Twizy. A just reward, perhaps, for taking the plunge with electric vehicles.
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