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Renault reveals EZ-GO electric city taxi

It's Renault's vision for a low-cost shared city Robo-Taxi of the, er, fairly distant future

Behold Renault’s vision for a low-cost shared city Robo-Taxi of the, er, fairly distant future. It’s called the EZ-GO. They unveiled it today at the Geneva Show, a counterpart to the rather sexy luxury personal autonomous SYMBIOZ car – and gorgeous connected house – they showed at Paris last autumn.

Renault does reckon to have autonomous robo-taxis in service by 2022, but they doubtless won’t look like this. Sadly. The EZ-GO is a pretty full-on metamorphosis of the automobile.

Let’s begin with the side doors. Of which there are none. Instead the interior is one big U-shaped sofa. At the open end of the U is a big upward-hinging door, with a ramp onto the road. Think cross-channel ferry. It’s a brilliantly simple way to get up to six people sociably arranged around the vehicle, and to give wheelchairs and pushchairs simple roll-in roll-out access.

Because autonomous vehicles won’t crash (it says here…) and it’s limited to 30mph, the designers are happy to seat people sideways. Renault also points out that the end-on door means there’s no hinged door suddenly jutting out into the flow of vehicles or pedestrians.

A huge glass area gives a panoramic city view. Renault reckons parties of six could book them for a sightseeing tour. Screens inside could show geofenced tourist-guide info.

Underneath is an electric platform with inductive charging, so the autonomous system can drive into position above a charging plate and juice up without anyone having to plug it in.

It has four-wheel-steering for a tight turning circle. Enclosed wheels cut drag, not that there’s much at 30mph. More socially, they reduce spray over surrounding pedestrians and cyclists on wet days. The suspension drops to let the people in and out but raises over speed bumps and so on.

So how would the shared system work? Anyone who uses Paris or London’s bicycle schemes will be familiar with the feasibility of a docking station from which you can collect a vehicle and drop it at another station to recharge.

The infrastructure investment for these stations is non-trivial. But city authorities will probably justify the space they take up by putting them in today’s parking bays and saying the EZ-GO removes some of the need for private car parking.

But it doesn’t just need to go station-to-station. It could also be parked up kerbside and ordered by app. (We’re not sure why, in the illustrations, Renault proposes that in some future where the car has completely changed its appearance, the smartphone is a dead ringer for 2018’s device. But moving on…)

Riders could book it exclusively. Or, at reduced cost, share the thing with anyone going in a similar direction. Like a little bus. This is a concept many other car companies have been exploring, including Ford, BMW, Mercedes, and Tesla.

The EZ-GO would be an expensive vehicle to build – it’s fully electric, autonomous and the size of a long wheelbase S-Class at 5.2 metres. But it’d be in use for a far bigger proportion of the time than a normal car, and each user would only be paying for the few miles they’re in it, and those miles would possibly be shared with other people. So it should be a very cheap way of getting about.

As with all similar proposed autonomous shared vehicles from across much of the car industry, the most significant cost saving is obvious. Versus today’s taxis, the most expensive component, the human driver, has been done away with.

The theory is that with these robo-taxis beetling about a city, fewer people would own a car and fewer roadside parking spaces would be needed. Although of course if they were that cheap, people might well come out of buses and railways, as well as out of private cars.

Net result: more congestion, not less.

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