French automaker Renault says its latest generation Google-powered infotainment system could push the digital generations to the tipping point of buying a battery-electric vehicle.
The system is fitted to its “Generation 2.0” BEV, the Renault Mégane E-Tech Electric unveiled at this week’s IAA Munich International Motor Show.
Going on sale next year in Europe, the car is the first model to be exclusively “Made in ElectriCity,” Renault’s new industrial hub for EVs, located in northern France.
Its powertrain features a new motor delivering three power options from 126 hp and 184 lb.-ft. (249 Nm) of torque to up to 214 hp with 221 lb.-ft. (300 Nm) of torque and four levels of regenerative braking.
Known more specifically as the electrically excited synchronous motor (EESM), it claims better power output compared to permanent-magnet motors and doesn’t require rare earth metals, thereby reducing the environmental impact and cost of large-scale production.
The motor is compact and weighs 319 lbs. (145 kg), about 10% less than the motor currently used on the Renault Zoe, despite a marked increase in both power and torque. Its high-power version claims a sprint time to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 7.4 seconds.
The Mégane E-Tech Electric comes with a choice of two battery capacities: 40 kWh for a range of 186 miles (299 km on WLTP cycle), and 60 kWh for a range of up to 292 miles (470 km on WLTP cycle, depending on model).
The 40-kWh battery is made of 8 modules of 24 cells each, distributed over a single layer. The 60-kWh battery consists of 12 modules of 24 cells each, spread over two layers.
BEV Tipping Point?
Beyond power and range, the in-cabin user experience of the Mégane E-Tech Electric will woo consumers of Generation X and younger who depend on an extensive digital life, says Renault’s design studio chief, Marc Pinel-Peschardiere.
He says the power of the new digital experience lies in the marriage with Google technology. Talking exclusively to WardsAuto at the show, Pinel-Peschardiere says he believes this technology will promote BEV sales better than any other technology on the vehicle.
“When you look at what the younger generations look at when buying cars today, they don’t look so much at engines or power. What is important to them is, ‘will I be able to have my digital life inside the car?’
“It’s also more important when you talk about second-hand cars. Today, if you want to buy a second-hand car you choose one that does not have a screen in it because it’ll be outdated, you can’t do anything with it and your smartphone will do the job. Now, this is changing because if the consumer has a vehicle whose infotainment system is always up to date, he will be able to sell it easier and at a better price.”
Reluca Balan, Renault’s director-marketing multi-media and development, says the vehicle will also sit better in the future shared mobility environment where users’ profiles will be able to follow them from car to car.
“Say I rent a car from the airport and then, later, take a car from where I am to go downtown, then take another one back to the airport,” Balan says. “I will be able to have my profile always with me. It will follow me and I won’t have to be adjusting to each new car and learning their systems.”
In developing the system, Pinel-Peschardiere says simplicity was his main goal. “Everything is there before your eyes with no deep layers of actions needed to get through – in two clicks you can do everything,” he says. “That’s the basic philosophy of the system and we built it on Android with Google Maps, Google Assistant and Google Play.”
Seamless User Experience
In hardware terms, the system uses the branded OpenR screen with a 12.3-in. (31-cm) dashboard screen and 12-in. multimedia screen. The entry level model features a 9-in. (23-cm) multimedia screen. Both incorporate the latest-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with 4K multiple display capabilities and advanced connectivity with USB-C ports.
The instrument-panel section of the OpenR screen accommodates four different driver displays according to their priorities: driving layout, navigation layout, zen layout and battery layout, and the display can be wholly customized. It features five widgets (fuel use, tire pressure, distance, eco-monitor, music) and eight color schemes.
However, Pinel-Peschardiere believes it will be the system’s software that will be the lever that pushes the digital generations into buying BEVs because, as with their smartphone and mobile devices, it will constantly be updated with the latest software.
“Neither you nor me can say what will be the most sought-after application in two or three years – it probably doesn’t exist yet. But with an open system like ours, neither the client, or in fact ourselves, have to worry about it because when that application gets into the Google store it can be downloaded immediately.”
He says the system will be so seamless that it will break the habit that many consumers have of mounting their smartphones on the dashboard because they trust their devices more than their vehicle’s outdated infotainment systems.
“We have found in our studies of our consumers, and those of other brands, that 95% of users put their phones on the dashboard because they don’t trust the car’s systems,” Pinel-Peschardiere says. “Maps, for example, are not updated and to do that can be very complicated. Now, with our constantly updating system, we firmly believe the customer will not plug his phone in.”
Google Maps also includes a specific function for EVs called Electric Route Planner. It plans an optimal route for long journeys that natively integrates charging stations.
Should the set destination be one for which the battery level is insufficient, the system will automatically propose a selection of available and compatible charging points along the route and suggest the best way of arriving as soon as possible.
During the journey, it updates automatically according to the vehicle's actual energy use. It also warns the driver if the planned route needs to be changed, should a charging station be out of order, for example.
OpenR Link integrates all the functions that can be found in a smartphone or mobile device so it can also be used like a tablet, with either a single finger (short tap, long tap, scroll), multiple fingers (pinch, zoom, etc.), or by using the voice recognition software.
It receives and displays notifications and allows you to easily navigate between its different spaces (Home/Navigation, Music, Phone, Applications, Vehicle) via a menu bar at the top of the screen.
The system can be customized like a smartphone, in particular through the use of user accounts. These allow individual user personal profiles to alter the vehicle settings, Google Account preferences, My Renault account settings, automatic smartphone mirroring, etc. Naturally, it is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and operates by cable or as a wireless system, although wireless knocks out the Electric Route Planner function.
“The users can also access all these functions even if they forget their phones left at home because they have logged into their Google account,” Pinel-Peschardiere says. “You will have your Google Agenda meetings displayed, you will have your history of searches that you have done at home, you have your Spotify lists, etc. Your digital life follows you straight into the car.”
Balan says consumer response in the early development stages of the system saw an overwhelmingly positive reception for it.
“They were absolutely delighted with it. We had invited European customers of Renault but also those of other brands because it was important to have as much feedback as we could,” she says.
“We were surprised that even in France, where people can be over-protective about their data, they were delighted. I can quote from some of what they were saying: ‘Google already knows everything about me because I have them on my phone.’ So, having this type of experience in the car enhanced with specific EV driving functions. They were delighted.”