‘Design is not dead’

Renault’s latest concept seeks to prove that, in a future of identikit driverless ridesharing blobs, there is still hope for privacy, luxury and beauty. By Ben Miller

WE WERE ANNOYED by this notion that we’re all going be riding around in white boxes,’ smiles Renault senior design VP Laurens van den Acker.

‘I’m not saying we won’t – for most of us, 90 percent of the time, that will be the reality – but we won’t only be doing that. I like to think there is hope for design, even in this new world. Who wouldn’t want to be driven in this? Tell me this is a white box!’ There’s nothing like a deadline to set minds racing and change in motion.

Renault does a Bentley 1But when CEO Carlos Ghosn announced that a Renault robo-taxi would be a reality by 2022, you can’t imagine van den Acker and his design team were very inspired. Isn’t the ride-sharing, electrified, connected, autonomous pod nothing less than the automobile stripped of its romance, and anathema to car people like you, me and van den Acker?

Apparently not, and the EZ Ultimo concept is van den Acker fighting back – bringing hope where all appears lost. Officially it’s the third of a triptych of robo-taxi concepts exploring the opportunities the paradigm shift to driverless vehicles throws up. The first two (a robo-Uber and the best-looking delivery van yet conceived by man) were all very worthy, but van den Acker and his team have let rip with the EZ Ultimo, the near-future equivalent of a Rolls-Royce or Bentley limo with no driver.

And more marble. ‘My boss Carlos is saying this is a big business and he wants us to take our fair share of it,’ says van den Acker. ‘But we couldn’t resist doing something more exotic because people say that when we’re all using these robo-vehicles then design is dead. I needed to prove that we don’t agree.’

Provocative and thought-provoking, the EZ Ultimo riffs on familiar themes – a lounge-like interior liberated of driving controls, architectural design influences – but delivers them with such flair you’re happy to suspend all disbelief.

The 1800kg package uses a single e-motor driving the front wheels, wireless charging to keep the 310-mile battery topped up and a magisterial body some 5.8 metres long but low like a supercar (1.35 metres high). A pair of vast two-part doors unfurl to give access to the interior and its very indulgent rear-facing front seat (which rotates to face the opened door for easier entry) and rear bench seat.

Gorgeous detailing abounds: moody lighting from lamps in pale gold, emerald green velvet seats, smooth expanses of marble, a bespoke flask for refreshments, the herringbone parquet floor in American walnut, and controls that work with the tactile precision of a top-end stereo. And all the time the car’s signature lattice-like skin, inspired by the Prada store in Tokyo, creates a cosy cocoon of contemporary cool.
Why so big? ‘It’s more premium to be stretched out.’ Sexy, private, public transport? The future according to van den Acker’s bright.

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