The Renault group has announced the launch of a Level 4 autonomous commuter vehicle. The vehicle is expected to be used "rapidly" in public transport, with prototypes already scheduled to take customers around Paris from the end of May. The aim of the transport service will be to take customers from the Bois-de-Boulogne to the Roland-Garros stadium and back during the tennis tournament, which starts on 20 May.

The group is currently developing an electrically-powered "miniBus platform" based on the new Renault Master. This will be complemented by various automation solutions offered by specialists such as EasyMile and Milla. WeRide, which has now joined these partners, has already put more than 700 autonomous vehicles into service in Asia, the Middle East and North America, including 300 minibuses. With Renault, its activities are set to extend to Europe.

Level 4 autonomous shuttle from Renault

The international autonomous driving scale comprises six levels, from L0 to L5. The vast majority of vehicles today are capable of driving in L2 and L2+. In addition to ACC and lane-keeping assistant, these include advanced functions such as automated lane change (e.g. in the BMW i5). Despite the assistants, the responsibility still lies with the person behind the wheel.

From the next level up, Level 3, the technical requirements are considerably higher, as the vehicle must be able to drive safely even in complex traffic situations. Given the costs involved, Renault expects demand for Level 3 cars to be low at best. 

Level 4 autonomous shuttle from Renault

The French manufacturer believes that the situation is different in the public transport sector. Annual demand is expected to reach several thousand minibuses in the coming years, as more than 400 major cities in Europe alone will gradually become low-emission zones, according to Renault. 

Autonomous minibuses could then provide a flexible complement to metro, tram and bus services. The costs of automation are expected to be offset by the elimination of driving staff. Renault's shuttles are expected to reach autonomy level 4. This means that the vehicles can travel autonomously within a defined area with remote monitoring, without a driver on board. The plan is "to offer a range of low-carbon autonomous minibuses before the end of the decade", said Gilles Le Borgne, Renault's Director of Development.

To find the best solution for autonomous public transport, the group has been conducting trials for years. The Mach 2 project, announced for 2023, is one of them. It should result in a fleet of automated electric minibuses by 2026. These are to be integrated into Châteauroux's public transport network.

Unlike many manufacturers, Renault sees no prospects for autonomous cars. Rather than banking on passenger car-style robotaxis, like Tesla or Hyundai with its Ioniq 5, the French manufacturer is banking exclusively on shuttles designed to complement public transport. These could be used whenever the number of people to be transported is so small that a city bus is not worthwhile, for example at night or on the outskirts of towns.  

Level 4 autonomous shuttle from Renault