The chaotic free-for-all that is parking in Paris has often provided inspiration to French car designers. In the 1950s, for example, the little Reyonnah tandem car had wheels on outriggers that could be folded inward so it could occupy parking spaces little wider than a motorbike’s.
The same set of issues lit up Renault’s corporate imagination in 1992, for the Zoom, an electric city runabout. This time the trick was in its wheelbase. It was shrinkable, electrically, from its normal driving length of 8.7ft (265cm) to just 7.5ft (230cm) so that the Zoom could be squeezed into the most impossibly tight downtown spots. With its central pinch point, the car’s height would grow from 4.9ft (149.5cm) to 5.7ft (172.5cm) as it tucked its rear end underneath to compact itself. The width remained constant at 5ft (152cm), and access was via two rotating doors that opened in the style of beetle wings.
The feather-light plastic body was easy for the 25kw electric motor (90 percent recyclable, Renault said) fed by nickelcadmium batteries to propel, which endowed it with a range of 90 miles (145km) between recharges. The cheeky cabin design strongly evoked the Smart City-Coupé which would emerge several years later, and included a putative sat-nav system. However, Renault was also in the throes of launching its own new small car, the Twingo, a conventional gas model. The Zoom, co-designed with aerospace group Matra, is now just another step in Renault’s varied concept car line-up.