At Last, An Open Source Electric Vehicle From A Major Manufacturer

There is a rule of thumb to follow when looking at product announcements at the fringes of the motor industry that probably has something in common with crowdfunding campaigns. If the photographs of the product are all renders rather than real prototypes, walk away. It is said that small volume vehicle production is a space that attracts either crooks or dreamers, and parting with your money to either can be a risky business. So when yet another electric vehicle platform makes its debut it’s always worth looking, but too often the rendered images outnumber anything from the real world and you know you’ll never see one on the road.

It is with interest then that we note an exciting announcement made last week at CES, that the French carmaker Renault are to release an open-source vehicle platform. It is called the POM, and it is based upon their existing Twizy electric buggy platform. If this last point causes you to snort with derision because the Twizy is a tiny and not very fast in-line two-seater with awful weather protection better suited to the French Riviera than an American Interstate, remember that the car itself is not the point of this exercise at this stage. Instead the access to the technology will spark fresh innovation in the open electric vehicle sector that will transfer into better systems for more practical open source vehicles in the future. (Incidentally, we’re told by people who’ve tried the Twizy that it can be something of an unexpected gem to drive. It seems the lowish top speed doesn’t matter in the twisties when you have a low centre of gravity and quite impressive acceleration in a tiny machine.)

Partnered with Renault are OSVehicle, ARM, Pilot Automotive, a manufacturer of automotive accessories, and Sensoria, who will be working on wearable accessories. It’s probable that you won’t see many POMs on the road if you don’t live in a territory that already has the Twizy, but it’s certain you’ll see its technological legacy in other vehicles.

We’ve covered plenty of electric cars in the past here at Hackaday, and this isn’t the first one with an open source angle. We’ve had a very nice Mazda-derived ground-up build, and an astounding home-made hub motor.

73 thoughts on “At Last, An Open Source Electric Vehicle From A Major Manufacturer

  1. The Twizy. OMG. I’ll never forget having to plug a kettle in to a long extension lead to get the volts to drop so the damn thing would start charging on high UK volts! Or the turn signals coming on at random. Or needing to plug it in and unplug it to reboot it so it would start…

    Awesome fun, but it was very much a ‘beta release’ that I had, even though it was old already.

          1. We’re nominally 230V, but in practice most places are still 240V. The euro harmonisation of 220V and 240V was something of a smoke-and-mirrors affair, we’re all 230V, but the permissible error bars on that 230V are wide enough that both 220 and 240 are within spec.

        1. All US homes have 220 available. My range & dries are both 220, in my other house so is the water heater. All branch circuits are balanced between the two hot leads to give 110.

          Hams that need 220 for their kilowatt linears often need a dedicated circuit added. So if you need 220 to charge an EV, it is available.I would assume that even in Europe, you would need to update your circuit to charge an EV due to current requirements would probably exceed what is normally available (I could be wrong, as I didn’t have an EV when I lived in Germany).

      1. When I visited the UK on business I was amazed at how fast the ubiquitous (every hotel room has them) electric tea kettles could heat a cup of water. Then, about half-way through the trip, I moved to open the back of a device that was plugged in and the local guy swatted my hand away.

        “I do this all the time,” I said, of working on the system live.
        “There’s heat seats on the power supply board that are live,” he said.
        “Well, yeah.”
        “Well, here they’re live with 240 volts.”

        I unplugged the device.

      1. Ahaaaa… yeah, not so good for the weather screening as older design, also ouch, double that price from US dealer… Can get a container full of them across an ocean for a couple of thousand.

        1. “Golf cart death trap” is a apt description of it. You can’t even carry groceries in it. Totally impractical.

          To me such vehicles are a joke unless you’re living in a year around temperate zone where there is no other vehicle traffic. You can’t use it where you’re subject to temperature extremes where you need either a heater or A/C in order to use such a vehicle in comfort or where more traditional vehicles are in use. Heaven forbid you need to actually transport goods because you’re out of luck.

          If anything, it’s a study in how not to design something.

    1. Ah fuhgeddaboutit just found the low speed electric vehicle pilot wound down and was terminated for lack of interest. Though it had been extended to general public a while ago, but it was only ever permitted to provincial employees on provincial lands, who had already been provided “gator” type atv pickup things.

      There’s a 3 wheel vehicle pilot, but only certain models allowed. 10 year wait for result of that.

      Which leaves eBike regs the only alternate, and the power and weight is a bit limiting.

      However, offroad vehicles now meant to be able to drive on shoulder of road between trails, yielding to other traffic, unless banned by city, so wondering if that loophole worth building a buggy for.

      1. Though the other loophole is, import something 15 years old and convert it, then doesn’t have to pass anything but basic a safety standards…. but then full registration as a car, so no favors on fees and insurance, even if it’s unpossible to take out a minivan full of lawyers kids at 120mph because it will only do 30 or 55.

    2. I tried to attach a picture of a trike from the Philippines. The were generally a 125cc bike with an enclosed sidecar and a canopy over the driver/passenger. Got me home many times after a night of San Miguel’s (and perhaps other activities that lead to my first marriage).

  2. The “mandatory battery hire” is a no go for me.
    They force a monthly charge on you whether you want one or not. I’ve paid cash for my cars for years. I’d rather buy an Elio than a Twizy and have a set expenditure.

    1. Tru dis…. I’m an outright or FY kinda guy too. Sirius radio keep calling me, I just literally laugh at them and say “who in their right mind pays for radio?” and hang up.

        1. Well I stuck it on during the month free, and decided I’d rather listen to commercials than random computer picked playlist, because it sticks trash in there that really screws up the flow, it’s like it’s googling for stuff on the fly. In short, 1 hour of music, only 15 mins of anything you don’t have gut reaction to hit the off button for. Remember when media player et al would search your entire PC for music and would end up with some explosions and shit out of a game directory, and suddenly spring it on you at full volume if you picked random/shuffle well yah, most sirius stations are as bad as that.

    2. I’d rather buy an Elio too except that recent news suggests we’ll never have the chance. Read on a car blog recently that it’s reported that Elio has $100k in the bank and a $123 million deficit.

      I was personally excited and hopeful for Elio, wanted to own one even.

    3. I looked into their EV offering (Zoe?), the battery hire / mileage limit was insane, I could’ve bought a V8 Range Rover and driven it round burning all the dinosaurs for less money.

      I’ve seen precisely ONE Twizy on UK roads, being driven very slowly up the slow lane of the M3 in the pissing rain (no doors, great!) being passed by everything including trucks and the driver being shaken like a doll in a washing machine every time one went past. Yeah, sign me the fuck up for that!

      1. I’ve seen quite a few, in towns and suburbia where they make a lot of sense. The person who drove one on the M3 must have been insane. Thinking about it, quite possibly breaking the law too, as IIRC quadricycles aren’t permitted on motorways.

        I’ve not driven one, but I have a friend who has. He says it’s an amazing summer B road and rural road toy because it comes alive in the twisties. And he’s a motorcyclist, so knows something of this subject matter.

      2. I used to live near MediaCity in Salford, near Manchester. Since all the land round there is owned by Peel they’ve got a private security force riding segways, driving twizies, they’ve also got these 3 wheel platforms you stand on/in like a chariot. No idea what those ones are but I once saw one chasing a thief and it was terrifying to see barreling down the pavement at maybe 25mph.

    4. The monthly charge is not the big problem. Selling the car is a massive problem because the new owner has to get a lease from Renault so basically they have full control over whether you can sell your vehicle or not.

  3. Long time Twizy owner, besides the plastics getting a bit old and squeak, still so happy about it and thrived of the step forward.
    I have been, with a friend, in talks with Renault’s head of EV near Paris late last July, he totally fell in love of the idea of open sourcing it… (within legal aspects of it as they don’t want to be liable for any injuries)… We hadn’t had the time to redo meetings with a bigger staff as we wanted to, but in a way, I’m pretty we added some weight in their step in the good direction, whenever they had planned working with OSV or not at the time, is a good move.

    Twizy is a simple, sane, and hackable platform, I deeply wish to see it become the basement of a breed of urban vehicles as it’s where it plays the best it’s role.

    OpenSource is the way to go! Thank you Renault

    PS: the R&D center is beautiful, and as big as a small town… for those who know the Twizy and mainland EU legislation, some countries don’t need the license plate on the front side for “light quadricycles”… The parking lot gates have cameras that read license plates from front (they ask for our plate number before the appointment to have access)… well, under the surprised eyes of employees and visitors, we passed the gate in reverse gear… That’s for the anecdote ;-)

  4. I really can’t figure out what they’re trying to do though. Are they actually going to open-source the twizy design, or is this about making it run linux to talk to ‘internet of me’ socks? I don’t get it. I feel like I missed something. Can someone translate PR bullshit for me?

      1. That is consistent with the press release. Now if they were open sourcing such hardware as the motor and charge controllers, and the rest of the drive train, this would be a big deal.

    1. “…it allows third parties to copy and modify existing software to create a totally customizable electric vehicle.” Seems to be the extent of the ‘open source’ that I can see.

      1. Though probably scratch that one, they’ve gone all performance cyclist minded, better the enemy of good enough etc, so doubt it will ever get produced, just overdeveloped, won’t look like a Kr200 any more and have any charm, or will be $80,000 a pop in carbon fibre and titanium.

  5. I love the concept of the Twizy (my commutes are short) but I can’t figure out their pricing scheme. 7000 GBP for it vs say a Nissan leaf at 26,000 but on lease they cost pretty much the same at about 200/month. Shouldn’t they be down at 50/month or something?

      1. On the Twizy it goes from 35€ to, something like 75€ for those who pick a very short contrat with lots of mileage… on 50€/month in my case… It hopefully comes with assistance insurance which came in handy once, and the battery is swapped if it loses too much capacity… though, it was ok back in 2012/2013, battery tech was still a bit expensive… but nowadays, I’m really not sure (plus, the organism behind the lease if purely horrific, contract changes are excruciatingly expensive, a real PITA)

      2. In the long run that might be the best way to go. One of the things that is not discussed enough is the issue of disposal/recycle of used batteries for e-vehicles and leasing might be one of the solutions.

        1. It may be a solution for some people, especially to overcome the financial hurdle of upfront cost. Which are somehow like if you would have to pay for all your petrol at once when you buy a vehicle. But for disposal it should not be necessary. EV batteries are nothing that is changed at the curb side, like conventional starter batteries, but in a repair shop/garage. And probably they retain even some scrap value.

          1. ‘Disposal’ in this usage doesn’t mean ‘scrapping’, but rather the whole backend for dealing with expired batteries. They are not, for example, going to haul themselves to a recycling plant. It is all very well to say they have value when they are used up, but realizing that value is not always a trivial exercise.

      3. Batteries are consumable, with current technology. Just like petrol. At the moment this is still in the pre-early-adopter stage, so it’s gonna be expensive, basically a toy for rich men and companies with particular needs, security etc who would otherwise be stuck with golf carts.

        If it takes off, it will of course get cheaper. There’s no competition right now.

        There should be a massive market for short-run, light, cheap commuting vehicles. Most car journeys are short. But people want the option of long-range too.

        People could use an EV for commuting, and just hire a petrol car for long trips. That’d make sense economically, but people’s attitudes haven’t come around that way yet. Hopefully they will. Maybe some very good, very heavy PR, and a price difference that nobody can ignore, will bring it when the technology’s completely ready.

        1. EV for commuting, here in the U.S. that could easily mean a 150 -200 mile round trip daily with lots of stop and go driving. And most people cannot afford a decent EV car since they are priced as rich persons toys.

          Here’s the other problem with the Tqizy, it’s a self-propelled coffin. Not safe at all on roads where the other vehicles are 2 tonne cars and trucks. The other problem, not family friendly and worthless for carrying goods. It would be worthless in hot climates where A/C is needed or in cold climates where having a heater is a must.

          Off road the thing is useless with those skinny Model-T tires. First mud patch the car runs into it will sink.

          In short there is a lot of serious engineering and money that needs to be put into this rolling disaster to make it safe and viable for American roads. As it stands it’s not even a concept car, it’s just a glorified Segway.

          1. Rolling disaster? If Renault had claimed that Twizy makes everything that normal family car does, then you could call it rolling disaster. But they haven’t, have they? What’s the matter with you, only 2 tonne cars allowed? What about motorcycles, how do you cope with them? Proper american should also know that Model-T with it’s skinny tires was actually pretty good in mud and snow, more competent than many modern car.

  6. 1. driver license and registration required?

    2 if the volts are talking about for charging you can get 220 volts from electric dryer, stove or outdoor unit for central ac or if you have a large wall mounted ac united

  7. Haha nice, as far as i know the twizy uses a Sevcon Gen4 Inverter. I would love to play around with it someday as the inverter is really easy to program from my experiance….

    1. It is, check out the OVMS project at http://www.openvehicles.com a CANBus (on OBD2) device, originally meant for the Tesla Roadster but adapted to plenty of cars, including the Twizy… well, toggle a few settings and you can tweak the Sevcon with ease, and pump out 12kW instead of 5 on the “small” twizy, it really becomes fun :) (actually, not street legal anymore, don’t forget to reset the settings once you’re done playing around)
      Michael Balzer has committed plenty of code for the Twizy, you can read tons of stuff, and set plenty as well, from torque curves, angular acceleration smoothing, to regeneration-to-speed ratios…
      Unfortunately, I have read that very recent versions, somewhere in 2016, have received a hardened firmware preventing such changes… until someone else manges to hack it again (or find the new key actually)

  8. I read some time ago that if you paid GM $50k, they would sell you a Camaro rolling chassis. That is, a road-worthy Camaro without a drive train. I’d posit that the electric drive train to turn that chassis into a decent follow-on to the Tesla Roadster would be $50k or less.

    I know if I had a spare $100k, that’s what I’d spend it on.

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