Let’s Look At The 1992 ‘Renault Zoom’ Electric Car That Could Literally Shorten Itself By 14 Inches

Renault Zoom Topshot

Many concept cars throughout history have previewed a future that never materialized. The GM Firebird III anticipated autonomous freeway driving back in 1959 and we still don’t have eyes-off autonomous guidance at freeway speeds today, let alone crazy canopy styling. Then there are the concept cars that preview technology that’s just a few years down the road. The BMW Vision EfficientDynamics’ performance plug-in tech was later used in the i8. However, it’s rare that a concept car occupies both categories simultaneously. The Renault Zoom is one of those rarities.

This city car concept was both largely ordinary by today’s standards and a car from a future that never existed. It was a scissor-doored oeuf designed to make urban parking easier for Mylar-clad cosmonauts, using the unique concept of a variable wheelbase.

Renault Zoom 2
Photo credit: Renault

See, the entire rear axle of the Zoom was hinged so that when driving, it sits well behind the tailgate. However, if the driver of the Zoom found a spot that’s just a little bit too tight for the car, it was possible to tuck the rear axle underneath the car, increasing ground clearance while shortening the car by almost 14 inches, all the way down to a total length of 90.6 inches. The zany Swiss scientists at Rinspeed may have come up with a variable-length car called the Presto in 2002, but Renault’s take came out a full decade earlier in 1992. How’s that for forward thinking?

Renault Zoom 3
Photo credit: Buch-t – Own work, GFDL

While the adjustable wheelbase arrangement may not have caught on, the Zoom’s choice of power most certainly has. This little egg on wheels was all-electric. Granted, it did run on fairly antiquated nickel cadmium batteries and only had a 25 kW motor, so expect a top speed of just 74 mph (120 km/h) and a range of only 93 miles (150 km). Still, do you really need to go much quicker if you never plan on going beyond city limits. Renault touted that the electric motor was 90 percent recyclable, which really isn’t bad at all. Weight wasn’t bad either at just 1,764 pounds (800 kg).

On the inside, the Renault Zoom sported some novel ideas for 1992. In the middle of the funky transit-like bench seat sat a hands-free telephone system, while a navigation system was on hand for directions. These are features you’d find on any new luxury car, brilliant equipment for a little 30-year-old city car concept. Need to crank up the tunes? No worries, the Zoom had a CD player for your copy of Selected Ambient Works 85-92.

Oh, and there’s something else quite interesting about this tiny French car. Dear reader, the Renault Zoom was built in collaboration with Matra. Yes, that Matra, the same company that designed and engineered the Renault Avantime and built the three-seat Murena coupe. Perfect for polycules, I guess. As such, the Zoom’s weirdness really shouldn’t be surprising, nor should the weirdness of the press photos.

Renault Zoom 4
Photo credit: Renault

Look at all these sunglasses-wearing people in metallic morph suits, looking like they just got in on the red-eye flight from Neptune. They’ve taken a fondness to our electronic beats and our vast quarries, yet they believe our city cars are somewhat lacking. You know what? I reckon they’re right. Oh sure, the original Mini is a masterpiece of packaging and the Fiat 500 is incredibly cute, but neither of those cars are truly weird. Bravo, funky spacepeople, wherever you may be now. The Renault Zoom really suits your style.

Lead photo credit: Renault

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15 Responses

  1. That 150km range isn’t half bad for the time, especially with NiCd batteries. Come to think of it, that range and top speed is perfectly usable in the context of a city car.

  2. Funny idea let’s make tiny cars smaller. How about let’s make huge cars smaller? Like a pickup truck with a collapsible bed like a telescope? They are usually empty and could reduce further than 14 inches. It’s like cramming electric crap features in every corner of an EV while trying to increase range and reduce costs.

  3. One bit of totally unverified trivia about the Zoom: I think it may have been the first concept to sport the 1992-2022 logo (which would be introduced to the lineup with the Twingo soon after). If anyone knows of a previous Renault concept with the post-92 logo please let me know.

    1. Yes, the Twizy is a descendent in some way of this concept, even though it feature two seats one behind the other.
      There is also some familiarity with the face of the Twingo as you mention.

  4. Wonder what it would be like to drive if you forgot to extend the rear. Higher ground clearance (and thus center of gravity) on a really short wheelbase. What could possibly go wrong?

  5. Everything about this just seems so stereotypically over the top French that I’m a bit surprised they didn’t measure the glovebox size in cartons of Gauloises

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