Minibus Options and Renault Trucks’ zero emission synergy

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Passenger-carrying electric vehicles now come in all shapes and sizes. Richard Sharman paid a visit to Minibus Options to see how the Reanult Trucks Master Z.E. could appeal to operators of school, welfare, airside or corporate contracts

Zero-emission coaches and buses and are fast becoming the ‘must have’ vehicles for many contract requirements as local councils and big businesses want to be seen to be doing what is right for the environment. These types of vehicles will also become a requirement if you are operating into an area earmarked to be a Zero Emission Zone.

But moving people is not just about full-sized coaches and buses; the world of the minibus is also changing at a rapid pace, so I headed to Whaley Bridge-based Minibus Options to see the latest technology from Renault Trucks.

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Long tradition and a surprise

Before we get into this feature I feel it right to give you some background into Renault Trucks, as the minibus market is very different to that of its larger coach and bus industry cousins.

Renault Trucks has been in business since 1894, and if you think back over the last few decades the truck that would have been the most recognisable on the road was the Magnum; however, a little known fact is that the current incarnation of Renault Trucks has been in Volvo Group ownership since April 2000, although Renault maintained a 20% share in the business, which it reduced to 5% in October 2010, and sold its remaining shares in the company in December 2012.

Renault Trucks is now 100% owned by the Volvo Group, so if you operate an all Volvo fleet of coaches or buses, the Master Z.E. would fit in nicely alongside them.

The interior is light, airy and comfortable. RICHARD SHARMAN












A zero-emission future

Renault Trucks has set ambitious targets for electric mobility in terms of sales volumes. The manufacturer has announced that by 2025, electric vehicles will represent 10% of its total vehicle sales, and 35% by 2030. The ultimate goal is to provide 100% of its vehicles without fossil fuels by 2040.

The manufacturer is making huge investments to achieve this goal. In March 2020, it started series production of its second generation of electric vehicles at the Blainville-sur-Orne plant in France and now boasts the widest electric range on the market. As well as the Master Z.E. tested in this feature, Renault Trucks’ ZE range also includes truck models D Z.E. and the D Wide Z.E. giving it a range that extends from 3.1 to 26 tonnes, meeting the urban requirements of delivery/minibus, distribution and waste collection sectors.

To help its customers accelerate their energy transition, Renault Trucks has set up a new sales organisation dedicated to electric mobility. At the same time, the manufacturer is continuing to invest in extending the electrification of its range of vehicles to all uses. From 2023, an electric range will be available for each segment that the company operates in, namely distribution (with those vehicles able to be converted to minibuses), construction and long distance trucking.

Embracing zero-emission

“Since 2017 we have been paying close attention to developments with alternatively fuelled commercial vehicles. Whilst there is still a lot of scepticism about electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, we have fully embraced the notion that we are on a one way transition to zero-emission minibuses” said Minibus Options Sales Director Fred James. “Given that the sale of current diesel platforms is due to be banned in the UK in 2030 (M1) and 2035 (M2), accessible vehicle operators only have two or three replacement cycles before the only choice is to opt for a zero-emission vehicle.

“We use lightweight materials where possible, however we use traditional methods of vehicle construction to ensure a robust and long lasting finish. Electric vehicles are expected to have a longer lifespan than an internal combustion powered vehicle so it is important to make sure that our modifications not only meet the operational requirements of a customer but also stand up to the demanding life of a commercial passenger vehicle on long term service.

“The Master has been a firm favourite with our customers for decades, owing to its low floor and full height sliding door which make it a great starting point for a useful passenger entrance. The Z.E. version allows us to do exactly the same modifications as we do the its diesel counterpart. The only thing we do have to pay close attention to is payload and power constraints. This means that we can’t quite push the Z.E. as far in terms of passenger capacity or added components.

“So far we have produced four specifications of the Master Z.E., three of which are with wheelchair access and the fourth as a nine-seat crew vehicle with enclosed load space. These specifications were designed with specific applications in mind. We continue to be able to offer tailor made solutions on electric vehicles. Despite the added complexity of the drivetrain and issues related to payload and power supply, customers can still enjoy vehicles designed to suit their needs.

“We have supplied 14 units of the ZE to various customers in different operating environments. One interesting application is the use of two nine-seat wheelchair accessible Master Z.E.s on the ‘Katch’ demand responsive transport service currently being piloted by Suffolk County Council. This shows that these vehicles are working today in real world applications.”

The dashboard is well laid out and is fitted with a powerful demister unit which provides heat instantly, and is effective in also heating the interior. RICHARD SHARMAN













Green for go! When you turn the key the green light shows that the vehicle is powered up and ready to drive. RICHARD SHARMAN








From van to minibus

Whilst the Renault Trucks Master Z.E featured may look like it has just fresh of the production line thanks to the craftsmanship of Minibus Options coach builders, the vehicle actually arrives at Whaley Bridge as a van.

Converting vans to minibuses is something that the family-owned company is well versed in and has been doing for over 30 years. The process begins by taking the freshly delivered van into the bodyshop where the bulkhead is removed and the job of skilfully removing the metal panels and preparing the sides and rear the of the van for fitment of the bonded saloon windows and roof-mounted coach style three-way adjustable roof vent glass panel. Whilst in the body shop the van also has the rear inner wheel arches flattened so that they don’t intrude into the interior and for ease of seat fitment. The lightweight flooring is also fitted, but not covered at this point.

The vehicle then moves to the trim shop where work starts on the interior. The vehicle’s saloon cavities are filled with insulation, custom panels are made where required and the interior lined in two-tone durable soft trim. The saloon floor is then completed with a tracking system to provide a certified floor for Type Approval which is then overlaid in slip resistant safety flooring, edged all round.

Minibus Options is also able to fit multiple accessibility options, such as a powered inboard wheelchair lift, additional grab rails and so on. Type Approval certification is also provided in the purchase of the vehicle.

First impressions

This was not my first time testing a Renault Master. I had test driven a Euro VI diesel-engined example converted by Minibus Options back on a snowy day in March 2020 – the test drive of this vehicle can be found on the CBW YouTube channel. I was impressed with the diesel version, which was also fitted with an inboard wheelchair lift and had a longer wheelbase. Given this, my expectations of the Renault Trucks Master Z.E. were already high.

The current incarnation of the long-running Master model was given a refresh in 2019, replacing vertical headlights with much more stylish smaller horizontal clusters featuring Renault’s c-shaped lighting signature which characterises the manufacturer’s models.
The frontal styling has also changed from a swept back look to a much flatter and higher profile. However, the loss of the swept back profile has been accounted for on the restyled model. Aerodynamic styling has been added into the bumper below the new headlight clusters and the bonnet line is styled so that the air tails off to the sides of the vehicle.

The new grille serves to make the the model stand out on the road, but it has the purpose of creating a good airflow to the engine bay in the diesel version, which being a Euro VI and running hotter would be required. The Master Z.E. is a very different beast; what I would call the power bay is near enough empty in comparison to the diesel option, and what is there is sat low down in the bay, but we will cover that in more detail shortly. The front bumper is also designed with two in-built foot holds to make it easier to reach things like the windscreen wipers and windscreen whilst out on the road. Front fog lights are fitted.

Bumpers, side mouldings and mirrors all come in black and I cannot see an option in the official brochure to have them coloured coded from the factory.

Moving to the sides of the vehicle, rugged powered electrically adjusted and heated mirrors are fitted with repeat indicators and clear lenses, the wheel arches are slightly flared, and a swage line runs from the rear of the vehicle and imitates the curvature of the cab door windows as it slants down. A thick rubbing strip is applied to the sides of the vehicle but unlike the previous test drive, and maybe because of its shorter length, no orange side LED marker lights are fitted within it.

At the rear, two full height opening doors are fitted with large hinges that allow them to open wide. Significant bump stops are fitted to ensure the doors do not slam into the sides of the vehicle in high winds. Rear windows are fitted, with the offside being deeper than nearside. The rear light clusters look good, but are not yet full LED. The only thing that I think needs changing is the additional brake light mounted in the middle of the rear doors, this could really do with being a high level brake light mounted at the top of the vehicle.
Overall the Renault Trucks Master Z.E. is a smart looking vehicle with modern styling; red Renault Trucks badges are mounted to the passenger doors imitating larger vehicles in the Volvo Group subsidiary’s range.

Adaptable interiors

Minibus Options offers a wide range of options to equip the Renault Trucks Master Z.E. to your needs. The vehicle tested features 13 passenger seats, with two in the cab of the vehicle with four doubles and three singles in the saloon area, with lap and diagonal inertia reel restraint seat belts fitted to each of the M2 certified semi highback, individually contoured seats with headrests which are all on tracking so the vehicle can be reconfigured if required. LED lighting and two saloon speakers are fitted in the roof lining.

Despite the tested medium wheelbase vehicle only being 5,548mm long, there is still plenty of leg room for passengers and headroom is also generous at 2,070mm.

A manually operated step is mounted below the side entrance door, with a cab buzzer to warn if the step is deployed. Less mobile passengers are better to sit in the saloon area rather than the cab area as it is quite a step up.

The interior does look and feel high quality, so this vehicle would be suited to multiple applications.

The Master Z.E.
chassis layout. RENAULT










Driving experience

Getting behind the wheel you find that, on the face of it, it looks very much like the standard dashboard found in the diesel version. You have the same key, but the only other difference at this point that it looks like it has an automatic gearbox and selector.

It is not until you turn the key you notice the difference, once you have effectively started the vehicle you get a loud beep and a green ‘go’ symbol in the dash binnacle to show the vehicle is ready to use. The dashboard itself doesn’t really have many buttons; the demister unit blows hot air immediately and although the interior has no saloon heating, the demister seemed to be powerful enough to heat both the cab and the saloon. In-dash air-conditioning is fitted for hotter days.

A USB charging point, central locking, electric windows, cruise control and an eco button are also fitted, the latter designed to reduce power to the electric motor to save power.

The dash binnacle is basic, but has all the information you require. The clear speedo is in the centre, an equally as large power gauge to the left and a Kilowatt meter to the right. Setting off, the very first thing you notice is a strange whirring noise coming from the front of the vehicle, but its nothing to be alarmed about; it is the Renault’s E.V. Voice which emits a distinctive range of sounds signalling to pedestrians that the vehicle is moving; you can hear this on the YouTube video of this test drive.

Exiting the Minibus Options site and on to the main road through Whaley Bridge I found the steering very light, with an impressive steering lock. The 75bhp electric motor originated from Renault’s small Zoe car, but don’t let that deter you, the Master Z.E. has more than enough power to propel it to 50mph, at least when no passengers are present.

A look underneath the bonnet before leaving revealed that the Master Z.E. has a very low centre of gravity thanks to the battery and motor being mounted low in the power bay. As it was designed for a car, the battery does not take up much room at all.

Out on the open road and the sharp corners and hills of the Peak District the Master Z.E handled very well. It is front wheel drive, which really pulls it out of the corners and that low centre of gravity means that it sticks to the road and there is very little body roll. One thing to remember with this model is that it features regenerative braking, and will also pull back when you take your foot of the accelerator. This makes for a much more entertaining drive and really makes you think about the power you are using and how to regenerate it; this is all part of driving an electric vehicle. You also have to be aware that if you are going to accelerate foot flat to the floor at every opportunity you will find that your range will drop very quickly.

The quoted maximum range of the Master Z.E. is 75 miles of driving range using its lithium-ion E-Tech electric 33 (33kWh) battery. The 57kW 75bhp power unit offers a torque of 225Nm. Engaging eco mode changes the vehicle set up to provide less abrupt acceleration and maximum speed of 50mph, although this vehicle was already limited to that.

Going back to the range of the vehicle, Renault estimates average real world driving figures for this vehicle as 75 miles in summer and 50 miles in winter. But it also says that actual real world driving results may vary depending on factors such as the starting charge of the battery, accessories fitted after registration, weather conditions, driving styles and vehicle load. During the test drive I had the LED interior lights, headlights and heater on to simulate real world driving conditions.

I was out on the road for around 1hr 30mins and that was a combination of fast A-roads, country lanes and hilly terrain at Goyt Valley. It has to be said that even on the steepest gradients I could find, the power was still there and it was still fairly quick to gain speed. Descending some of steepest hills is also interesting. With a diesel you need to control the vehicle’s speed by either selecting the appropriate gear or keeping your foot on the brake. In the Master Z.E. it naturally pulls back and regenerates as it is doing so.

The Master Z.E. is fitted with 16” steel wheels with large wheel stylers and Continental Van Contact Eco 225/65 R16 C tyres that offer a low rolling resistance, which contributes to conserving driving range without degrading road-holding or braking. These tyres are rated A for fuel economy, or in this case range, A for grip and rated B for road noise at 72dB. They certainly performed well on the test drive.

Returning to Whaley Bridge I had travelled 25 miles, and according to the power meter I had only used just over a quarter of the range. There was quite a lot of brake regeneration occurring through out certain points of the test drive, and certainly helped to ensure the range did not drop quickly.

A rather ingenious use of storage for the new H2-TECH model is the fitting of the vehicle’s hydrogen tanks in the roof line. ANTHONY BERNIER/RENAULT GROUP












Extended range and quicker

Since the Minibus Options-converted vehicle was road tested, Renault Trucks have announced that the Renault Master Z.E, will now be equipped with new 52kWh batteries from Spring 2022.

The new battery storage capacity of 52kWh, up from 33kWh, means this new capacity extends the vehicle’s city cycle range up to 152 miles (244km) under Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) regulations, with an anticipated real world range of up to 118 miles (190km).

This is a significant increase and with a fast charging, the Renault Trucks Master Z.E. can be 80% charged in two hours and reaches full charge in just three instead of six hours. In addition, the vehicle is guaranteed for three years or 99,419 miles (160,000km) and the battery guaranteed for 8 years or 99,419 miles (160,000km).

The technology in the vehicle tested has been around since 2019, with the first Minibus Options-converted examples being the previous body style. In just over two years the battery technology has moved on fairly quickly to allow fast charging and a much better range.
H2-TECH arriving this year

If the increased range on the Master Z.E. is still not enough for your needs, then later this year there will be a new hydrogen-powered option, named the Master H2-TECH, developed by the Renault Group rather than Renault Trucks.
Available later this year, the all-new Master H2-TECH promises zero CO2 emissions coupled with an increased range of up to 310 miles (500km) and a fast refueling time.

The Master H2-TECH will be equipped with a 30kW fuel cell, 33kWh battery and four tanks containing 6kg of hydrogen combined, and is being produced entirely in France. The van itself is built at Renault’s Batilly plant, while electric and hydrogen integration is completed by PVI, a Renault Group subsidiary based in Gretz-Armainvilliers. The electric motor is produced at the Cleon plant, while the fuel cell assembly will began at the Flins plant at the end of 2021. The hydrogen tanks are sourced from Faurecia.

Hyvia, a joint venture equally owned by Renault Group and Plug Power, specialists in turnkey hydrogen and fuel cell solutions, will have hydrogen refueling stations available to purchase, lease or rent and which it says are designed to meet and exceed all safety regulations and best practices, while allowing fast fueling times similar to internal combustion engine vehicles to maximise vehicle availability.

Hydrogen supplied will either be generated on-site using water electrolysis or supplied in bulk using gaseous tube trailers. The system then compresses the hydrogen into storage, before dispensing it into the vehicle when needed.


With all of this information taken into account, the Renault Trucks Master Z.E. has a bright zero-emission future and is certainly a vehicle that shouldn’t be overlooked if you are in the market for this size of quality converted minibus. It offers a smart, but uncomplicated solution for operators, with 24/7 roadside backup promised within 75 minutes and 70 service centres throughout the UK and Ireland.