As head of corporate design at Renault, Laurens van den Acker is the executive overseeing the styling of future driverless cars. In an interview with Automotive News Europe he explained the challenges facing the automaker in designing vehicles such as the EZ-GO robotaxi concept.
Why did you create the EZ-GO robotaxi concept?
This is an elegant form of mobility services. At first, it was a difficult to motivate our designers to work on a project like this because the concept doesn't have a steering wheel, it doesn't have a seat, it doesn't go "vroom vroom." However, it's unusual when you can really start with a blank sheet of paper – where there are no rules, there is no heritage.
What were the design challenges?
You have a completely new set of demands, especially when you take out the traditional configuration in the car. This allowed us to find a solution where we have one front-opening door, which gives easy access. It also led to the seating's U-shaped configuration. Getting in and out of a robovehicle is very important. You don't want to get out on the street side, because there could be a car driving by. The front entry has also created space for a wheelchair or somebody who has difficulty getting around. The fact that you can just walk in is a more dignified way of entering and exiting.
What makes the EZ-GO a Renault?
Most robotaxis I have seen so far have been boxes on wheels, closely related to public transportation, with sliding doors like an elevator or a bus or metro. We wanted a human-centric approach, so we kept the profile relatively low and the vehicle very transparent. Once you're inside, you're protected. It's quite cozy, more like a community. You travel differently. The car becomes your window to the city. This is very Renault, because we are a family-oriented company.
What kind of information will riders need inside the car?
There’s a screen that shows you the destinations of the people who are traveling. But we didn't put screens everywhere. We found out from talking to companies in the business that most trips are generally quite short, 10 to 15 minutes. People get in, look at their smartphones, then get out. There's no need to watch a movie. We might have some information about the city itself, but it will be relatively limited.