Passion dictates the driverless future for Renault

Even driverless cars have to evoke passion in their consumers if they are to win acceptance, that’s the opinion of French carmaker Renault as it looks into the future of mobility solutions.

The manufacturer’s director of its connected and autonomous vehicle programme, Thierry Viadieu, believes the consumer will demand a bespoke driving experience even with a vehicle that is shared by many other users and that technology has to be employed to make this happen.

Speaking to TU-Automotive, Viadieu said the autonomous vehicle’s main asset will be its ability to make driving less of a chore in congested traffic or on long tedious motorway journeys.

He said: “We are convinced driving can be a pleasure but in some conditions it can be more boring than at other times. So our autonomous programme is less about the technology than providing an experience to the customer that takes away the part of the driving that is boring and saying to them ‘we can take over this function now you can do something else’.

“That’s our objective with autonomous driving where we give back some time to the driver but at the same time keeping the possibility of enjoying driving pleasure when conditions allow.”

Naturally from a carmaker known for breathing driving passion into its products, Viadieu believes the driving experience must always be one that attracts the consumer back into the vehicle.

He explained: “Another dimension is related to connectivity and that’s where we have already started because when you think about car sharing and using car sharing services, that can be sharing the car you own with other people. What is important about this is to be in a vehicle environment that ‘recognises’ you – it is more pleasant to enter a car that recognises the driver rather than using one that does not.

“Simple things like immediately getting you radio presets, access to your favourite places on the Cloud and also you get the lighting and ambience that you want and that is something that we are working on.”

Viadieu also said the connected car of the future has a vital role to play as a mobility solution for consumers both in areas of efficiency and convenience for personal and business use alike.

He explained: “We have to explore how we get into the business of offering services to the consumer. We have started with joint venture pilots schemes testing things and we also have programmes such as R-Access for fleets where drivers can share the cars using remote access through smartphones.

“This is a new eco-system around the car where we are moving from the ownership of the product to the usage of it, which completely changes at least part of the business model for us. So the added value for the customer is not just selling the car but selling the potential usage of the vehicle.

“What is very important in this story is there are a set of somewhat sophisticated technological enablers and this is the job of the OEM to do this. It does not mean that mean that we would not move into the services but we should not forget that the car with need some technological bricks and these are complicated especially when you think about autonomous driving.

“We can dream of the time when a car without a driver can come and pick you up from home and drop you somewhere else but this might take a bit of time.”

Viadieu does not accept the shared car of the future will be more utilitarian than some of the more emotional products on offer today.

“First we don’t see that,” he said. “While it is possible to hire a car for a short trip and not care what it looks like, I think for the ownership model, doing something attractive versus doing something unattractive involves the same amount of work so why not make it attractive that will appeal to customers?

“If you take Twizy, for example, looking at the sales we cannot claim a commercial success but if you drive the Twizy anywhere you will see it attracts people’s attentions with them coming to you to ask about it and gets them excited. That’s the aim of the car. So I believe the cars of the future will still have to remain attractive and stir the passions among customers.”

Nor does he see the demand for new product tailing away as more cars are shared by several users, saying: “In the situation where cars will be shared among people, it will get greater use than if it was simply owned by one person. In this way the renewal of cars will be faster than at present.”

Matching the connected car’s digital offering to the customer’s ongoing expectations will be another big challenge for carmakers to take on.

Viadieu said: “How to keep the car fresh in terms of technology as with the smartphone? Because if we compare it with a smartphone or the tablet, the average lifetime of the car today is seven years or so, whereas after five years a tablet is in the trash bin especially because you are stuck with an operating system that is probably not supported any more.

“So we have find by keeping the car fresh for a longer time, possibly by upgrading parts of it. Because the consumer will be expecting the same level of performance as they will have from their tablets and home computers.”

Renault’s experience with electric vehicles (EVs) has shown the commercial importance of getting adequate infrastructure in place to allow new technology to be seen as attractive to consumers.

“We are very proactively working with energy providers, the governments and local authorities on infrastructure,” said Viadieu. “Because everyone can see, for example with EV, we have made a vehicle that works but in terms of infrastructure the promises made by others I am not sure have been completely fulfilled.

“Because of this, we feel it has affected the market for EV which has not grown as fast as it should. It cannot all be dependent on carmakers alone because if you want to provide fast charging you need special high power equipment and this is a headache for an energy provider. I understand with the Tesla’s new charger will have 100Kw and you cannot bring that easily to everywhere and that is a big issue to address.

“Infrastructure has to be in public spaces and those spaces have to be managed by the local authorities so they have to decide whether to fund it.”

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