When you think of concept cars, the inevitable images that come to mind are of exaggerated designs, impractical proportions, and profoundly self-indulgent experiences. Concepts are — usually — intended to titillate our most selfish desires. Except Renault, a company that prides itself on making cars suitable for all tastes and budgets, has come to the Geneva Motor Show with something altogether different: a robot taxi.
The autonomous EZ-GO concept car that Renault has brought to Geneva accommodates six people and is essentially a driverless UberPool vehicle. You invoke one via either a mobile app or a roadside station, and it comes along to sweep you off your feet and into a spacious and airy interior. It can be booked by individuals or groups, and if Renault’s vision comes to fruition, it will function like a new form of public transport for densely populated cities. Instead of jumping on a fixed-route bus or a less affordable taxi, you can send your ride request to Renault and the company’s EZ-GO car will integrate you into its existing route in the most efficient way relative to its other passengers.
After the EZ-GO’s premiere here at the Geneva Motor Show, I discussed Renault’s super ambitious plan with Patrick Vergelas, who is in charge of Renault Mobility Services, and the car’s futuristic design and metal-clad wheels with Anthony Lo, who heads up Renault exterior design. Both summed up the vehicle as turning the car into a service. There’s no end-user purchase price because Renault won’t try to sell cars like the EZ-GO to consumers. Instead, the company will aim to see its robot taxis deployed by public transport and taxi services. With Level 4 autonomy, the Renault EZ-GO is intended primarily for urban use, and Renault suggests the cost of a ride in one would be slightly dearer than a bus ticket, but still cheaper than an Uber or Lyft ride.
It’s still difficult for me to believe that car companies will be agile enough to adapt and evolve their businesses to the point where they’re service providers rather than mere car sellers. But Vergelas tells me that transition is already underway at Renault, which has been partnering with, and acquiring, ride-hailing services. The EZ-GO is the company’s present vision of the logical end point of its present trajectory.
Lo tells me that the EZ-GO is deliberately designed to be as distant as possible from the current trends in automotive design. Though Renault itself hopes to have robo-taxis out on roads by 2022, the Geneva concept car is something that Lo says would be aimed closer to the end (rather than the start) of the next decade.
The EZ-GO is entered through a massive glass door that lifts from the front of the car. It has a ramp to accommodate disabled passengers or parents with strollers, and there are wireless charging stations and coat hangers positioned at convenient spots. With huge glass panels on all sides, this car maintains an outdoor feel even when it’s filled up with people and luggage.
The Renault EZ-GO checks off all the buzzword phrases of today: shared, connected, urban, autonomous, and all-electric. It marks out Renault as the try-hard student who keeps doing all the homework while the other kids are goofing off with concepts like the extraordinarily fast and expensive Rimac Concept Two. But the truth is that we need more of this Renault attitude in the car industry. The competition that will meaningfully impact the automotive world outside Geneva is among the companies trying to figure out shared transport solutions like the EZ-GO, not the ones crafting outrageous toys for speed junkies.