So far, the self-driving cars proposed by most auto manufacturers feature the same four doors, center console, and bucket seats we’ve had for decades. The only big difference is that the steering wheel is missing. That’s silly. If we’re not driving with our eyes on the road, why should our car interiors look the same at all? Why shouldn’t they be social-first vehicles, designed for accessibility and flexibility in an urban world where less of us own cars and more of us borrow them?
This is the philosophy behind Ez-Go, the latest concept from the French auto manufacturer Renault. In fact, it’s a self-driving car and a car service in one, a vehicle designed from the ground up to be dropped into cities to help solve problems with urban transport.
The vehicle itself eschews front-facing seats for a U-shaped bench that can seat up to six people at a time. That means if you hailed an Ez-Go with your friends or family, you could actually interact face-to-face. (Though if you hailed it Uber Pool style, perhaps you would bury your face in your phone.)
Instead of side doors, the car features one large rear hatch that allows you to walk in and out. And thanks to a ramp that’s designed to dock onto a sidewalk right over the curb, the Ez-Go is accessible to wheelchairs, strollers, and even people on crutches. That door and ramp is a real gem in this design–compare how easily you could get a small group of people into an Ez-Go versus one of those stretched limos of yore. It’s a superb example inclusive design, how designing for the accessibility of a select few can actually make an experience better for everyone.
The other merits of the Ez-Go are in its pledge to cities. Renault wants to be a positive partner in the future of urban transport. So you can hail an Ez-Go with a phone just like an Uber, but if you don’t have a phone, you can hail it at public stations, too. You can ride it solo, with acquaintances, or with the public. And the outside is fit with LED panels that signal to pedestrians the self-driving car’s own intent–like when it’s safe to cross in front of it.
While just a concept, Renault’s idea seems like an important tell for the entire automotive industry. It’s an ambitious play, one that tells the Ubers and Lyfts of the world that their days could be numbered, that auto manufacturers might cut out the app middle man and just create services all their own. Then again, you could also imagine Renault backing off a bit on that approach and just selling 20,000 of these vehicles to an Uber, much like Waymo has been buying thousands of Chrysler minivans for its own service.
How exactly the business of automated transport plays out is impossible to know at this time, but one thing is for sure: Renault has a lot of very good ideas built into this concept that solve real problems for riders, pedestrians, and cities alike. Whether or not any of us actually steps inside an Ez-Go, many of its components may crop up again in whatever vehicle we do use to get to work or the movies, 10 to 20 years from now.