HANOVER, Germany -- Renault's EZ-PRO concept reimagines the delivery van as a group of connected, autonomous electric pods circulating around cities and helping reduce pollution and congestion as the urban population swells.
The EZ-PRO, introduced to the public at the Hanover commercial-vehicles show, consists of a "leader" pod with a human concierge, trailed by "follower" pods with self-service lockers that can be opened with a smartphone app. They also can be configured as mobile workshops for craftspeople or even as food or beverage service trucks.
Fleets of EZ-PRO pods could be dispatched from shipping hubs to make deliveries, each managed by a logistics operator such as the DPD Group or by a retailer. Customers can choose the time and place to receive packages and will be notified of the progress of their deliveries.
Rather than driving, the concierge would concentrate on "value added" tasks such as route planning, supervising the follower pods and hand-delivering groceries or fragile objects.
Renault describes the EZ-PRO as "an autonomous delivery concept featuring shared customizable robotics."
The EZ-PRO is Renault's second autonomous electric concept this year, following the EZ-GO robotaxi displayed at the Geneva auto show. A third vehicle will appear at the Paris show in early October.
The two concepts share a base platform, Renault designers said.
Philippe Divine, director of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance strategy for light commercial vehicles, said the EZ-PRO is not necessarily a vision of a specific future model. "This is a demonstration of where the technologies that we are working on could be headed," Divine said.
Nonetheless, many industry experts and executives say self-driving and electric vehicles may catch on first in the delivery sector because the safety and efficiency benefits will be easier to quantify and justify.
"The revolution in commercial vehicles will come first, then the passenger cars" will follow, said Ashwani Gupta, senior vice president of the Renault alliance's LCV business unit. "The moment business people start believing this is going to generate additional revenue and that this is going to be more efficient, then I think they will start working on it."
A 'last mile' solution
Improving delivery services is becoming more important as the rate of urbanization continues to grow, Renault says. The French automaker cites estimates that by 2030, 78 percent of the population in Europe and 70 percent in China will be city dwellers. At the same time, e-commerce has been growing by about 15 percent a year in major cities.
As a result, urban deliveries are expected to grow 20 percent in tons per kilometer in Europe and 125 percent in China by 2030 — bringing more pollution and traffic congestion. According to Renault, so-called last-mile delivery vehicles make up around 30 percent of traffic in urban areas.
Autonomous pods such as the EZ-PRO could reduce traffic by improving delivery and loading efficiency as well as avoiding haphazard parking that can cause congestion. Renault officials also see big savings opportunities, given that the cost of last-mile deliveries is estimated to be 35 percent to 50 percent of the total shipping cost.
Each EZ-PRO pod is 4,800 mm long, 2,100 mm wide and 2,200 mm high, with a 3,880 mm wheelbase. Its weight when not hauling goods is 2.5 tons for the leader pod and 2.8 tons for the follower pods, while load capacity is 2 tons and 12 cubic meters for the driverless pods. Range is projected to be 300 kilometers (186 miles).
The battery would be recharged through induction, either at stationary pads or perhaps through coils embedded in the roadway — a project that Renault is working on with Qualcomm.
The automaker has enlisted a number of partners for the EZ-PRO concept to demonstrate its flexibility. They include DPD, which delivers 4.8 million packages a day; Lomi, a Paris company that helped create a mobile coffee shop; the chocolatier Patrick Roger; and Piper-Heidsieck champagne.
"We are not logistics experts," said Divine of the Renault alliance. "This is not our job. But the technology is disruptive, so we need to collaborate to learn about our customers and their needs."