Public Driverless Mobility a Winner For Carmakers, Says PSA

Mobility is a ‘win-win’ for carmakers who can either make revenues by providing autonomous vehicles to urban transport ecosystems or take over the services themselves.

That’s the opinion of the PSA Group’s Gilles Le Borgne executive vice-president of quality and engineering. Speaking to journalists at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, Le Borgne stressed that mobility was a key part of the group’s strategy as it must be will most mass-market producers.

He said: “We intend to be mobility providers and, with our Free2Move brand, we are mobility providers. We are operating in all the mobility providing services in the US, in Madrid, in Paris and in China.”

Autonomous technology will also feature in PSA future mobility plans, said Le Borgne. “Of course, we intend to go on in this way but, at the end of the day if you are talking about the Level 5 autonomous car shuttle, we would like to be on that. Here we think there will be a business car because it will not involve the individual buyer but instead it will be with third parties like the town hall or on a regional authority basis or individual private companies who would like these shuttles on their sites.

“This brings a business case because you no longer have the wages of the driver and, in the long run, you can make a calculation for this case that makes business sense. For the individual buyer, however, it’s unlikely.”

Yet, it is this B2B approach to autonomous mobility that could open a rich seam of future revenues to carmakers. Le Borgne explained: “There are two ways: you can operate the service, which we are doing, or you could provide the shuttles. Let’s take a look at the companies currently providing autonomous shuttles – they are almost, or very close to, being bankrupt. Why? Because the product itself is very, very expensive. This, for us, is very easy because we just need to take our LCVs, medium and large ones, and transform them easily with the appropriate technology for Level 5 and provide very good shuttles. So, it could be a win-win – we could provide the transformed shuttle or we could operate the service by ourselves thanks to our Free2Move operating strategy.”

He reiterated that the group do not see full autonomy within its consumer range of products in the medium term owing to the costs involved with the technology. Le Borgne said: “Level 4 means you can go to sleep in the car and you won’t see this sort of technology in the PSA products within the next five years. That’s because we need to cut the costs of the technology by dividing the current cost of the sensor sets by between five and ten times.

“We have looked into the technology meeting with Tier 1s and well-known brands in Munich but I’m not going to push a technology to my CEOs if they cannot sell it. It’s about creating a business case for it and whether we spend the money on one technology or another. So, at the end of the day, it’s about making choices.”

Cost factors also feature large in PSA’s EV strategy, said Le Borgne, and the group hopes to cut its cloth according to market demands. He said: “Electric cars are like bio-food, they’re expensive. We are working like hell trying to reduce the cost. First of all we want to integrate the full value chain and so we will manufacture our own designed electric motors. Secondly, we are creating an electrified e-DCT (gearbox) fully designed for our vehicles.

“Then, of course, we are contemplating the batteries which, as you now, the battery generations move on every 18 months so you can increase the energy to increase the range or you could reduce the range to lower the costs. We are contemplating these two solutions and, depending on the first market move, we will see where we stand.”

Ways to reduce the initial costs to the consumer are also key to persuading more to adopt EV offerings, said Le Borgne. “We are preparing to sell to the consumer based on a monthly payment scheme to offset the large upfront cost of buying an electric vehicle. This is the reason we have decided to stick to a 50 kWh unit for the CMP car which includes DS3 Crossback, Corsa, 2008, next generation Mokka and more to come. All these will be equipped with the same battery pack and the same platform. These will also see their silhouette parts shared with ICE versions so, by having the same platform for a large number of cars, you will see them being produced on the same factory line. In this way we will be able to adapt quickly to changes in the energy mix and, at the same time, lower the costs of production. Also, with the 50 kWh we can have ranges up to 300km (180 miles) for the DS3 and 340km (204 miles) with the 208 and, in terms of commuting, this will be more than enough for most people particularly for a second car.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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