We climbed aboard the sleek EZ-Ultimo with Stéphane Janin, Renault’s design director for concept cars. It’s the third show car in the company’s recent EZ series of autonomous vehicles, and also the lowest and sleekest of the trio. Despite a large pantograph side door and gullwing opening roof section, getting aboard still requires a crouched posture to crawl under the cant rail.
“The problem is the batteries,” says Janin. “The chassis is so thick, that when you want to make a very sleek vehicle you have a compromise to make in the cabin.”
That chassis is shared with the EZ-GO autonomous people mover and EZ-PRO delivery truck – all three share the same wheelbase and large diameter, fared wheels. The EZ-Ultimo differs dramatically, of course, with its far more luxurious vibe.
“It’s a premium robo-vehicle,” says Janin. “If you want to go out to a restaurant you can order it, or it could also be a fleet owned by a hotel or airline, so they can provide an experience from the airport to the hotel.” He adds: “[Autonomous cars] can be a bit scary, so design has a role to play to reassure customers. We think they need a design that’s cosy, with materials they know.”
EZ-Ultimo’s interior was inspired by upmarket boutique hotels, restaurants and other chic places in Paris, says Janin. “The trend is a retro, Hausmannien feeling you see right now in many such places, in Paris and around the world,” he explains.
“It’s kind of retro design in a way – because all of the materials are retro – but the treatment is very modern. You have this contrast between something very futuristic and all these old things you know very well, so you feel cosy. That was the idea.”
Nods to the practicalities of fitting out a mobile vehicle rather than a fixed building have also been made. The cabin’s marble tabletop uses only a thin layer of stone to reduce weight, and the milled metal buckles, controls and other fittings are light aluminium coated with a brass-coloured lacquer.
Details include a retractable console for adjusting temperature and lighting, fold-out medal coat-hooks, a lower shelf made from leather and metal (for holding a bottle or two), and shallow metal retainers that emerge from a slanted wooden surface to hold a mobile phone in place while charging.
“We’ve tried to find new interactions,” Janin explains. “You don’t have any more your steering wheel or your gear shift; you’re not interacting with the machine as you used to. Now it’s a completely different story – more like travelling by Concorde, or the Orient Express.”
The interior is divided into distinct horizontal layers, with different surface textures and colours including a glossy white ceramic-style surface, pale natural wood and dark green leather, each stacked on top of one another. “We like this panoramic, very horizontal feeling,” Janin says. “We wanted the car to look very sleek and fast. It goes at 130km/h.”
The striking exterior features a matrix of diamond-shaped facets inspired by the Prada Store in Tokyo, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron. The facets are translucent rather than transparent. “We wanted to show, because you’re not driving anymore, you don’t need to see through the glass,” says Janin. He adds that in the future, designers will be able to skin autonomous vehicles with many of the same techniques employed by architects.
The torpedo-shaped exterior with pontoon fenders also echoes Renault’s history, with the car carrying engraved plaques both inside and out, referencing the company’s 120th anniversary.
“You’re not driving, but this is a new Bugatti Royale,” says Janin. “You didn’t drive that car, you had a driver, and now the driver is artificial intelligence, but it’s the same story.”