When you think of concept cars, the inevitable images that come to mind are exaggerated designs, impractical proportions and deeply self-indulgent experiences. The concepts are, in general, intended to excite our most selfish desires. Except that Renault, a company that prides itself on making cars suitable for all tastes and budgets, has come to the Geneva Motor Show with something completely different: a taxi robot.
The autonomous concept car EZ-GO that Renault has brought to Geneva has capacity for six people and is essentially a UberPool vehicle without a driver. You invoke one through a mobile application or a road station, and it involves sweeping feet and in a spacious and airy interior. It can be reserved by individuals or groups, and if the vision of Renault is brought to fruition, it will function as a new form of public transport for densely populated cities. Instead of getting on a fixed route bus or a less accessible taxi, you can send your travel request to Renault and the company's EZ-GO vehicle will integrate it into your current route in the most efficient way relative to your other passengers. .
After the premiere of EZ-GO 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 futuristic design of the car and the metal-clad wheels with Anthony Lo, which runs Renault exterior design. Both summarized the vehicle as turning the car into a service. There is no purchase price for the end user because Renault does not try to sell cars like the EZ-GO to consumers. Instead, the company will look for its robot taxis to be deployed in public transport and taxi services. With level 4 autonomy, the Renault EZ-GO is primarily intended for urban use, and Renault suggests that the cost of a trip in one would be a bit more expensive than a bus ticket, but even cheaper than a Uber trip or Lyft.
I still find it hard to believe that automotive companies will be agile enough to adapt and evolve their businesses to the point where they are service providers rather than mere sellers of cars. But Vergelas tells me that the transition is already underway at Renault, which has partnered with, and acquires, the services of "ride-hailing." The EZ-GO is the company's current vision of the logical end point of its current trajectory.
It tells me that the EZ-GO is deliberately designed to be as far as possible from the current trends in automotive design. Although Renault itself expects to have robo-taxis on the roads by 2022, Geneva's concept car is something Lo says will focus closer to the end (than the beginning) of the next decade.
The EZ-GO is entered through a large glass door that rises 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 hangers located at convenient locations. With large glass panels on all sides, this car keeps an outdoor feeling even when it is full of people and luggage.
The Renault EZ-GO marks all the fashionable phrases of today: shared, connected, urban, autonomous and totally electric. He points to Renault as the demanding student who continues to do all the homework while the other kids are getting into concepts like the extraordinarily fast and expensive Rimac Concept Two. But the truth is that we need more of this Renault attitude in the automotive industry. The competition that will have a significant impact on the automotive world outside of Geneva is one of the companies that tries to discover shared transport solutions like EZ-GO, not those that make outrageous toys for speed addicts.
Photograph by Vlad Savov / The Verge