Renault e-Plein Air is an electric take on an old Frenchie
Now in its 10th year, 4L International is an annual gathering held in central France for fans of the Renault 4, also known as the Quatrelle. To celebrate the anniversary of the event, Renault put together a team from Renault Classic, Renault Design, and Melun Rétro Passion, a vintage parts firm that specializes in the Renault 4, to create the Renault e-Plein Air electric runabout.
The original open-top Plein Air was introduced in 1968, ostensibly to compete with the off-road-ready Citroën Méhari, but it was really more of a beach car akin to the Fiat Jolly or Mini Moke. The conversion was done by Renault’s subsidiary Sinpar, and Renault even offered a conversion kit, with conversion instructions included in the factory service manual. Compared to the Méhari, though, it was expensive and not very capable, so only 563 units sold in the two years that it was available.
The new e-Plein Air is also based on the 4L, only with the battery pack and powertrain of the Renault Twizy. If you’re not familiar with the Twizy, it’s an electric semi-closed two-seat urban quadricycle that weighs just under 1000 pounds, has a 17-horsepower electric motor and a 6.1-kWh battery pack with a range of 62 miles, and a top speed of just 50 mph. The lightest conventional Renault 4 was at least 300 pounds heavier, and considering that open vehicles need extensive reinforcements, the e-Plein Air, particularly with a battery pack, likely weighs even more than that.
Think of the e-Plein Air as a concept that can move under its own power rather than as a practical consumer EV.
As with the original Plein Air, the Renault 4’s doors and roof have been removed, with simple trapezoidal cutaways to allow ingress and egress. While the ’68 Plein Air had a back seat and a folding vinyl roof, the e-Plein Air is completely open and a bespoke wicker picnic basket sits behind the driver and single passenger. Jaunty blue bucket seats replace the original’s black vinyl bench. While most of the original Quatrelle’s lines remain, the e-Plein Air has been updated with an EV’s grille-less front end and a contemporary dashboard with modern instrumentation.
It’s been suggested that with the e-Plein Air Renault is potentially taking aim at the new Honda e, though unlike the Honda e, the e-Plein Air’s looks are authentically vintage, not retro. Also, although the Honda e has a relatively short-range battery pack designed primarily for urban use, that car is a practical option in the real world. Renault would need to engineer a more suitable powertrain if it wants to compete with Honda’s urban EV and other potential competitors.
Still fun, though.