I have just taken my Renault Arkana e-Tech hybrid car for its first annual service. When the text message told me that they were going to apply a software update, there was no warning about the perils of electronics of e-cars.
The car was booked in for 9:30, a not unreasonable hour, given my age and advancing infirmity. Somewhat uncharacteristically I arrived on time.
“Will you be waiting with us, while the service is carried out?
—How long will it take?
—About an hour and a half.
—No, thanks, I’ll wander up the High Street and get a coffee and a scone at Costa.
—Would you like a voucher for Nutmeg?” (Nutmeg is an independent café owned and run by a young woman called Megan, who also happens to be a fellow allotment holder.)
Without thinking to ask what value was attached to the voucher, I accepted.
A very pleasant 90 minutes
As usual with these events – the dentist, the optician, the car wash – I’d armed myself with reading matter, and I had my iPhone with me. So I ordered a pot of English Breakfast, a cheese scone and a sausage roll with caramelised red onion jam. Total to pay: £8.75. Presentation of the voucher, in the shape of a visiting card with the date and my car’s index number on it, reduced the bill by £5.
The scone was hot, the butter was generous; the sausage roll was even hotter, and the red onion jam was divine. An hour and half passed as if by magic. Time had arrived for me to return to the dealership and retrieve my lovely car.
Back to Service Reception
Having alerted reception to my presence, and having been informed that my car was not quite ready, I proceeded to meander around the showrooms, where an ‘e-Tech Event’ had been taking place. Every car on the showroom floor, from both Renault and Dacia, was a hybrid. One, the Austral, the size of a large minibus.
Eventually I found myself in the waiting area, where two ladies were chatting. As I took a seat, one of the ladies was informed that her car was ready, and she took her leave. The remaining lady and I then engaged in a wide-ranging conversation about mobility, blue badges, children, walking frames. She informed me somewhat sorrowfully that she was unable to get her walking frame out of the back of the car unaided.
Not too long now, Sir
Then it was her turn to receive the good news that her car was ready, and she also left. As the receptionist escorted her away, she turned to me and said, “Yours won’t be too long now.” It was about 12 noon.
By one o’clock I was beginning to feel a little peckish, and since I was seated right next to the dealership’s fancy Italian hot drinks machine, I stood up to consider whether I might avail myself of, perhaps, a hot chocolate (or “Chocolat” as the machine called it). As I did so, I was approached by a young man whom I had not seen before.
Sir, we have a problem
His face looked somewhat troubled.
“I’m afraid we have a problem.
—What’s the matter?
—We were required to apply a software update.
—I know, your text message mentioned it.
—Unfortunately, when we applied it, it shut the car down.
—What do you mean?
—Well, we can start the engine, but we can’t get the car out of neutral, so it won’t move.”
A real tale of woe
He then delivered a real tale of woe: across Kent the group now had six vehicles in this immobile state. One, at the very dealership where we were standing, was being prepared, complete with its software update, brand new, for delivery. The company was now faced with telephoning the expectant customer to inform him that the car would not be available as promised.
The young man then informed me that Renault had known the previous day that there was a problem with the update. They were working hard to write a patch to fix it, but none of them had considered the possibility of alerting the dealer network.
How about a courtesy car?
The young man continued, “We’re trying to find you a vehicle to keep you moving while we sort this out.
The problem is, it’s now September, and we’ve sold off all our demonstrators, which means that our agents don’t have a vehicle which we could ‘borrow’. Please bear with us a bit longer while we keep looking.
—That’s fine. I’ll even take a manual if I have to.
—I’m afraid you may have to.”
It was another 20 minutes before he returned, with a key in his hand, which he held aloft in triumph. “We’ve found one. It’s a demonstration Dacia Duster. I’m afraid it’s lettered up, though.” We went outside to see it.
Back to the present
It was indeed lettered up. Across the bonnet was the name of the dealership. Beneath it, on the tip of the car’s nose, so to say, there was an enormous QR code for inquisitive passers-by to scan with their smartphone. On both sides was the alluring offer of a minimum monthly payment of £219 to secure a similar vehicle for yourself. Until I get my Arkana back, I shall be giving free advertising to the group and to Dacia, which is, as I’m sure you know, a division of Renault Group.
So, all the things that I thought that I had left behind, internal combustion petrol engine, manual gearbox, et cetera, I now had in my hands, brand new.
Don’t forget the bags
To be on the safe side, I asked if I could fetch the shopping bags from the back of the Arkana. No problem, it appeared. The Arkana was parked on the far side of the parking lot, out of the way. The staff had had to push it, to get it there.
Don’t let the simplicity fool you
As I got into the temporary vehicle, I noticed how much of it was old-school: the speedometer like a clock face, marked in MPH on the outer ring, and km/h on the inner ring, with a single analogue needle; the seat position entirely mechanical. But… There in the centre of the dashboard is the electronic display.
Even this little exercise in nostalgia is subject to electronic control of some sort. No doubt its software will also need updating at some stage. Let’s hope the update doesn’t shut the Dacia down.
I have now learned: it is not the electrics, but the electronics, that one must fear for on these new hybrid e-cars.
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