Geneva Motor Show - This is how Renault sees the future of urban transport; it’s called EZ-GO, and it is both a car and a service.
The hardware is a shared, electric, driverless vehicle, designed to transport up to six people both on dedicated routes with fixed stops like a bus, and as door-to-door mobility like a taxi.
The teardrop-shaped shuttle is 5.2 metres long and 2.2 metres wide but only 1.6 metres high, so that pedestrians can see over it, which is important in a tourism-orientated city such as Paris.
But that means that adults can’t stand up in it so, when it stops, the entire glass roof opens up like a huge boot-lid, providing a minimum 1.8 metres of headroom, and the front section of the floor is lowered to become a gently sloping ramp, making it easy to get in or out with a trolley-bag, a baby stroller, a wheelchair or even on crutches.
The six seats are arranged as a continuous U-shaped bench, rather than in rows, encouraging passengers to socialise en route (which also saves space by obviating the need for an aisle) with extra racks for luggage conveniently placed next to the ramp.
When stopped, it lowers itself on its suspension to keep a low profile for entry and exit, and when on the move, the active suspension raises the vehicle by several centimetres, to go over speed bumps more easily, for example.
It’s powered by a single electric motor driving the rear wheels, with all-wheel steering for maximum maneuverability and weighs about 1700kg including batteries. It even has wireless induction battery charging, so all it needs to do is park in the right spot for a few hours to get a full charge.
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The EZ-GO has Level 4 autonomous driving capability; it can manage its distance from the vehicle in front, stay in lane, change lanes (as in overtaking) and turn all by itself at an intersection. It can also get off the road into a safe parking position if something happens nearby that it doesn’t know how to deal with, either by itself or through its connectivity with a monitoring centre - and don’t we wish more human could do that.
Top speed is limited to 50km/h, the wide front opening is safe and away from the road for passengers when getting in and out, and a light signature that shows everybody around that it's in autonomous mode. It even has light strips displaying messages (e.g. showing arrows to pedestrians when they can cross the road) and beeps discreetly to warn pedestrians and cyclists that it’s there.
Renault says you’ll either walk down to the nearest station and call up an EZ-GO from the touchscreen in the station, or use your smartphone to call one to pick you up wherever you are - which will be a little more expensive, but still way cheaper than running your own car because it’s a shared service.
If you call it to your door, however, you can opt to be the only passenger on board for that trip, and enjoy the comfort and privacy of an individual car without having to drive, spending your traveling time reading, working, sleeping or surfing the internet.
The advantage, says Renault, is that it’s for everybody - people who can no longer drive, people who can’t drive yet or who are unable to drive. It can be used for a ride alone, or with a group of friends, or with your family, or shared with other users.
Once everybody is settled in and your luggage is fastened in the reserved spots, just push the button to tell the vehicle that it can start again. There’s onboard Wi-Fi connectivity, induction charging for smartphones and a big screen in front of the door that displays trip information (time to arrival, planned stops) or information about the city's services - or even information about the tourist spot you’re just passing.
Ever since Louis Renault drove his first car straight up the Rue Lepic, one of the steepest streets in Paris, to win a bet in 1898, the company he founded has had a direct interest in urban transport.
Much as that stunt changed the way Parisians move around their city forever, 120 years later Renault is looking at new transport solutions - shared and owned - for the overcrowded cities of the future; it’s estimated that 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050.
If Renault’s future thinkers are right, this is how we’ll be getting around those cities.