Renault ties Zoe electric car price to pollution levels in Bucharest

Renault is trying a unique marketing technique for the Renault Zoe in Bucharest. They’ve set up air pollution sensors to measure air quality, and are algorithmically calculating a price for Zoe purchases based on the current pollution level. The price is displayed on one of the largest outdoor media displays in Europe, that is on one of the busiest roads in Bucharest (Bulevardul Magheru), on one of the mist visible landmarks along that road (Cocor).

The video starts by saying Bucharest is one of the most congested cities in Europe, and that their air is very bad. Having spent a lot of time in Bucharest, I believe the video overplays the air quality. For example I do not recall seeing folks on the street wearing air masks.

On the other hand, I did measure the air quality last winter. I have a portable air quality monitoring device, and brought it with me to Bucharest last winter, and took a few measurements around the city.

This portable air quality monitor shows that Bucharest air quality, measured in December 2018 at the center of a very busy intersection, borders on the unhealthy range.

The readings – 90 PM2.5 and 100 PM10 – show the level of particulate matter in the air. PM 2.5 means particles 2.5 microns in size, PM10 means 10 microns. Between 50-100 PM2.5 the US EPA considers air to be hazardous, and above 100 PM2.5 air is considered to be unhealthy.

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This measurement was taken standing on a pedestrian island in the center of an intersection that’s a confluence of three major roads in Bucharest. There are buses and trucks and cars of all variety constantly whizzing through this intersection. I took several more measurements in that vicinity, and for example learned that on a side road a few blocks away the pollution level dropped to around 60 PM2.5. I also took readings in other parts of Bucharest the readings were similarly high. But I was busy and dashing around and did not make time to properly record anything.

The point is that where the video says the air in Bucharest is unhealthy, they are correct, but I believe the video overplays things with showing folks wearing face masks.

As for traffic congestion, yes things are bad in Bucharest. But will an electric car help in any way with traffic congestion? Nope. What would help in that regard is improving the mass transit system, increasing the total number of buses, and adding a large number of electric buses to the fleet. And indeed that’s what Bucharest is doing.

The video ascribes the air pollution to the large number of old cars. To an extent that is true. Romania overall is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and there are a lot of old cars on the road. I’ve even seen Soviet Union era Lada’s in Bucharest. Most of the Taxi fleet are old-school Dacia Logan’s. But another side to this is Bucharest as a city was designed and built mostly before Cars became a big thing. Bucharest does not have enough space for the cars to park because parking lots were not designed/built along with the apartment bloc’s. And the road system was designed thinking most people would be in mass transit rather than individually driven cars.

But in modern times, because Bucharest and Romania is rapidly modernizing, the number of cars on the roads is rapidly increasing. Not only does that impact air quality, it impacts traffic congestion.

Where electric individually driven cars would help both Bucharest air pollution and traffic congestion is if the taxi-cabs were electric. There is an extensive taxi system as part of Bucharest’s transit system. As I said, primarily those taxi’s are old-school Dacia Logan’s. Surely an old Dacia Logan will emit a lot of pollution – plus they’re not in good condition, and are rather cramped.

Therefore a fleet of electric taxi’s in Bucharest would solve for one of the sources of air pollution, while not worsening traffic congestion. In fact a few years ago a French guy set up a company in Bucharest to build electric Dacia Logans he hoped to sell to taxi companies.

I like the program as an ingenious connecting of the dots between air pollution and electric vehicle price. One wonders if Renault is getting a subsidy from the European Union for this. But, I have to ask whether this is the right solution. It will not do a thing to reduce traffic congestion.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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