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Self-driving shuttles: the future of the automobile

AFP
 - 15/03/2018

Self-driving, rideshare, electric shuttles, such as Renault’s EZ-GO concept car, will be hitting the roads of major cities in the coming years. They are at the forefront of an urban revolution and represent a formidable challenge for the automobile industry.

A new mobility service

A wide range of self-driving shuttles is already being tested around the world, including in urban traffic situations to provide transport services within clearly demarcated zones. The still emerging market is expected to explode in the middle of the next decade.

These vehicles will be run by transport companies. Users will “hail” them with a smartphone and climb on board at designated spaces set aside in cities.

The vehicles will be 2- to 5-seater saloons, or larger vehicles, but all will be fully electric and entirely driverless.

Improving life in cities

The multiplication of electric, rideshare vehicles is expected to improve the quality of life in cities and traffic conditions, by reducing the number of cars on the roads.

As they will run practically 24/24 and will be programmed to park in designated parking lots on the outskirts of towns, the shuttles should also free up space in the heart of cities.

According to the experts, the risk of accidents will be reduced by 90% compared to vehicles driven by humans. The absence of a driver will also reduce the price of the fare compared to that of a taxi today.

Senior and disabled citizens will be “picked up from their home,” thus restoring their “sense of freedom,” indicated Didier Leroy, VP of Toyota.

 

A genuine challenge for car manufacturers

"The real challenge behind these evolutions is the capacity to invest,” reported Eric Kirstetter, Roland Berger Consulting. Volkswagen has announced that it has earmarked €34 billion for the car of the future up until 2022. Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi has reported a figure of €50 billion over six years.

For Kirstetter, the robot-taxi market is above all a shuttle market. “People will prefer to pay less for a ‘shuttle’ than more for a four-seater car,” he resumes. The manufacturers hope that this phenomenon will not develop to the detriment of individual car ownership and that it will remain complimentary. But “the younger generations are less and less interested in possessing their own car,” noted Meissa Tall, automotive consultant and partner at Deloitte.

The conception and manufacture of these vehicles, which require cutting-edge IT and electronics, are going to propel IT heavy-weights into the automotive industry. Car manufacturing “will evolve from a purely product industry to a combined product and service industry,” said Tall. “As with all paradigm shifts, there will be newcomers, winners and losers.”

 

Photo : © Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP