Heuliez profits from a Friendly deposit plan

16 March 2009

Heuliez FriendlyFrench firm Heuliez is best known for making pieces of cars – the folding tin-tops that keep the rain out of the Vauxhall Tigra, for example – but now it is hatching plans for a whole car of its own. The egg-shaped Heuliez Friendly was first shown at the Paris Motor show last year, but the firm is now taking deposits for those keen to get into its three-seater, steering-in-the-middle, battery-powered city car.

Normally, when car firms open their order books, the price of entry is set high enough to rebuff tyre-kickers, so that the firm can get a true picture of customer interest. Even if the sum is returnable, few out-and-out timewasters want to see several hundred of their chosen currency units tied up for months on end, so a deposit is usually a good gauge of serious purchasing intent. In the case of the Friendly, which is set to cost €12,000 + VAT when it goes on sale next spring, you might normally expect to plonk down at least €250 or about two per cent of the asking price to reserve a spot in the initial production run.

So Heuliez seems to be playing a different game, given that its deposit is set at just €10 – about the price of serviceable bottle of Chablis. And while that money can be set against the purchase price should you indeed go on to buy the car, most buyers would be unlikely to notice a 0.001% difference on the day.

Heuliez Friendly dashboardIt seems, therefore, that Heuliez’s €10 down-payment is serving a completely different purpose. We feel the amount has been chosen precisely to attract tyre-kickers and timewasters – or electric-car pipe dreamers, to be more accurate. And if a few tens of thousands of EV enthusiasts can be persuaded to part with a tenner each, then that’s hundreds of thousands of ready cash for Heuliez to plough into the no doubt exceedingly expensive development of its little car.

Your €10 will, however, buy you “informations privilégiées sur l’avancement de la fabrication” – news, in other words, of the egg-shaped car’s progress towards becoming something you can drive, as opposed to a prototype you can ogle with ambition. And as you might gather, we can’t find a page about the deposit scheme in English.

The Friendly might look like something only a mother goose could love, but it will no doubt prove to be a serious motor car. Heuliez is at pains to point out that its welded space-frame chassis will get it through proper-car crash tests, even if the plastic body panels look a bit flimsy, and that it will be capable of reaching 110km/h (about 70mph) and will rocket from 0 to 50mph in about 16 seconds. OK, so that’s not rocketing, but it will be plenty fast enough for city streets or the mad scramble around the Arc de Triomphe. Range varies depending on batteries up to a maximum of 250km (155 miles). The firm is also keen to point out that it is not a complete novice at this electro-propulsion thing, having busied itself making specialist electric versions of mainstream cars since 1983.

We’re not used to forking out cash money for access to what will effectively be press releases, but for the endearing, loopy-looking Friendly we might just be tempted to hurl our own meagre funds into the pot.

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