Renault concentrates on public transportation for autonomous driving

Renault is adjusting its strategy toward autonomous vehicles. Regarding individual vehicles, Renault Group concentrates on the L2 or L2+ level for the moment. However, when it comes to public transportation, Renault Group sees the relevance of offering real autonomous vehicles.

CTO Gilles Le Borgne said Renault Group would not aim for so-called SAE Level 3 self-driving passenger cars but will focus its autonomous vehicle efforts on minibusses that operate at Level 4 on defined routes.

Level 2 or 2+ for cars

Renault offers “enhanced Level 2,” Le Borgne said Tuesday at an event at Renault’s technical center outside of Paris. That includes features such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance.

“90% of customer expectations are already met with Level 2 plus,” Le Borgne said. “We’ll stay on the safe and affordable side of this line” for passenger cars, “but we also want to work on Level 4 to meet public transport needs.”

Level 3, which allows drivers to do other things until asked to take control again, is a crucial dividing line, he said, because automakers and drivers share liability in a crash. Up to that line, liability generally rests with the driver.

“We want to stay at this level, because at Level 3 the responsibility is shared and the reliability must be extraordinarily high,” Le Borgne said. “We are a popular brand, and we don’t want to invest in Level 3 because it’s too costly and too hard for our customers to afford it.”

At the same time, the Group is making sure that the architecture of its vehicles can evolve towards the autonomous car if expectations, regulations, or the cost of technologies make this breakthrough feasible.

WeRide

Regarding public transportation, Renault Group intends to be a real player in sustainable and autonomous mobility. To this end, the Group is developing an electric, robotized, and pre-equipped miniBus platform to host various automation solutions from specialist partners.

“Experimentations have been underway for several years, and others are about to be announced, particularly with WeRide, the world expert in autonomous vehicles, with a first demonstration of public transport in real conditions in a few days’ time during the Roland-Garros 2024 tennis tournament,” says the official press release.

Two of the minibusses will be driving at the Roland Garros Tournament /Renault

“Renault will work with the Chinese start-up WeRide to develop electric autonomous minibusses, using WeRide’s self-driving technology and Renault’s van platforms. Sales should start by the end of this decade,” Le Borgne added.

Renault is actually testing the technology in WeRide minibusses built in China. As said, two of the buses will be available for the public to try at the French Open tennis tournament in Paris later this month.

Renault has been a shareholder in WeRide since 2021. The company has 700 vehicles in operation, including 300 minibuses. It recently received permits to test its autonomous minibusses in the UAE and Singapore.

“Level 4 is the ‘sweet spot’ for public transport”

Le Borgne said new regulations in France and Germany will allow autonomous shuttles on public roads. “Level 4 is a ‘sweet spot’ for self-driving public transport vehicles, said Jean-Francois Salessy, vice president of vehicle advanced engineering at Renault Group.

“Level 4 cars operate without drivers or controls, but only in defined situations. That is perfect for 20- to 30-passenger buses because they can travel on car-free, regular routes,” Salessy added.

The initial Renault Group autonomous electric buses will be built on the Renault Master large van platform. Still, ultimately, the goal is to also use a ‘skateboard’ EV platform that is being developed with the truck maker Volvo AB as part of the Flexis joint venture.

“More flexible, autonomous minibusses will be able to operate 24/7 in complete safety and will be a zero-emission alternative or an efficient complement to existing solutions (train, tram, bus) in terms of costs and CO2/km.passenger,” the press release concludes.

“The absence of on-board operators could offset the additional costs of robotization and automation. A simple remote supervision system will be required to operate a fleet of vehicles.”

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