True driving luxury has long been defined by the chauffeur – being driven as opposed to driving yourself, whether in a limousine, black sedan or armored ultra-premium SUV. But how will driving luxury be defined when everyone is being driven, inside fully autonomous cars? Renault explores this question with the all-new EZ-Ultimo concept, a cozy travel lounge that can be ordered up by the ride, hour or day, offering a more luxurious and private alternative to commonplace ride-sharing.
Renault has done a deep dive into the autonomous, electric future over the past year, beginning with last year's Symbioz driving/living concept and extending through this year's EZ series. It previously showed how autonomy can be adapted toward everyday ride-sharing with the Geneva-debuted EZ-Go and toward package delivery with the EZ-Pro introduced last month. Now it completes the EZ family, looking at a more premium breed of autonomous ride-sharing with the EZ-Ultimo.
Renault's EZ-Go would compete with the Ubers and taxi services of the future, meeting basic urban and suburban commuting needs. The Level 4 EZ-Ultimo, meanwhile, would live farther upmarket, where today's private car and limousine services do business. While the EZ-Go is designed to load up to six people, the EZ-Ultimo is designed for three or fewer, giving individuals and businesses a more private, intimate commuting experience for special occasions, luxury travel or everyday business needs.
"As consumer trends change and people are enjoying ride-hailing services more and more, a new paradigm for mobility will emerge," explains Laurens van den Acker, Renault SVP of corporate design. "Embodying this revolution, EZ-Ultimo offers a unique luxurious experience aboard a robo-vehicle that can be adapted depending on the service provider. Inspired by contemporary architecture, and completely integrated in future smart cities, EZ-Ultimo will provide an exclusive experience for all."
Despite being designed to carry half the number of people of the EZ-Go, the EZ-Ultimo measures half a meter (1.6 feet) longer at 5.7 m (18.7 feet), its wheels pushed out in a 3.88-m (12.7-foot) wheelbase. All that space is used to create an ultra-roomy lounge for its three passengers, ensuring they feel comfortable and relaxed.
Renault's "exclusive experience" begins when the EZ-Ultimo arrives, presumably within milliseconds of its VIP-type client walking out the front door. The car's door slides forward to let passengers in, and similar to the Lagonda Vision Concept, the edge of the roof swings up to increase the size of the entryway for more comfortable ingress and egress.
The entryway is plenty spacious, but it isn't mere empty space. Prior to the door opening, the lounge chair – by all indications, the #1 VIP seat – slides to the door from its driving position at the front of the vehicle. The #1 passenger can plop down immediately and rotate and slide back into place, watching as the clearly 2nd class #2 and 3 passengers seat themselves on the rear bench. The trunk area takes care of luggage with a slide-out drawer system.
Once inside, passengers enjoy a home-like atmosphere fully inspired by interior design and dressed with the finest wood, leather and marble decor and trim. Renault has pulled the past into its futuristic vision, giving its cabin a classical feel with retractable analog controls, lamps and lounge seating. The whole thing feels more like a hotel room than a vehicle cabin.
In place of window tinting, Renault has created a faceted glasshouse that provides privacy from the outside world. A full panoramic roof lets natural light flood in from above.
Passengers can use their free time for the usual autonomous-car activities – chatting with each other, relaxing the time away, doing work and enjoying digital content. But Renault also offers a new twist with its "augmented editorial experience" (AEX), which makes its world debut alongside the EZ-Ultimo.
Renault took an investment stake in French publishing company Groupe Challenges, collaborating to put together a more seamless way of consuming content on the move. The AEX delivers personalized, location-aware content via an interactive, voice-commanded interface that can show text, read the content aloud and provide seamless social media integration.
The video clip does a good job of highlighting what AEX is all about. It's a little terrifying to think about today's driver trying to focus on the road while simultaneously managing an editorial content platform, voice-based or not, but it makes more sense in the world of autonomous ride-sharing. And it could certainly be an attractive feature of a premium autonomous car service.
Renault is showing both the EZ-Ultimo and a life-sized AEX demonstrator at the 2018 Paris Motor Show, which opens to the public on Thursday.
The video below walks you through the EZ-Ultimo experience.
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