The VEDECOM Tech team went to Rennes February 11, 2020 in order to evaluate an innovative autonomous experiment, deployed within the framework of the SAM project, associating the manufacturers Navya and EasyMile. Competition or positive collaboration? Discover the logbook of our visit.

The experiment includes two shuttles, from two different makers: Easymile and Navya. It allows users to have two experiences. Above all, this playground creates positive competition and potentially stimulates technological and service progress for industry and territories. 

A site conducive?? to the deployment of an autonomous shuttle service useful for real users 

Arriving in the morning at 9 am from Rennes station at the Beaulieu RU bus stop on line C4, it only takes us a few meters to reach the Beaulieu RU Etoile terminus of the shuttle service. On site, we immediately observe an inflow of pedestrians, mainly students, who move around the campus. The site therefore seems ideal for accommodating autonomous shuttles. These transport students to various points of interest from 7.45 am to 6.30 pm: university restaurants, a cultural center, a digital hub, schools and the administrative center. 

The means are there: 4 vehicles are deployed and provide a useful service: 6 stations on a 1.3 km route and with a waiting time that varies between 7 and 15 minutes. Moreover, the service gets a line number like the others regular lines: it is line 100 of Rennes city’s STAR network. We appreciate the integration of passenger information into the supports already in place: the website, the mobile application, the screens on board buses. 

This is one of the rare experiments in which we rub shoulders with “real” users: regulars who regularly get on a shuttle as in a traditional transport vehicle, without apprehension, often when it arrives at the right time, in the right place on their journey. However, these “real” users are still too few for our tastes. 

The comparative analysis of VEDECOM Tech, which is integrated into its benchmark of autonomous vehicle experiments 

What stood out for us: the quality of the operators’ welcome, which may seem paradoxical since in the long term the target wants there to be no more operators on board. And yet these operators, serene and freed from the stress of driving, make the journey pleasant. They smile, they have time to interact with users and watch over us. In the end, even if we could do without them, do we really want to do without these human interactions? Or is it an opportunity to offer new services or a new user-relationship approach? In the field, we spent the morning testing the two types of shuttles, and identified their differences. One offers users a smoother ride with smoother braking, while the other provides operators with a more convenient control station. We also sifted through technological ambition and user experience. How complex are the technological objectives of this experiment? What is the feedback from the point of view of passengers, residents and operators? An example is the real-time geolocation application, which allows users to anticipate and thus promotes use of shuttles. Our full report is available in our benchmark of autonomous vehicle experiments.

This benchmark allows you to understand the current state of the art and provides decision support in your project intentions, by highlighting good practices, opportunities and mistakes not to be made. To find out more: 

What levers for the retrofit market development ?

Give a brand new electric life to regular petrol engine vehicle to take part in the energy transition, an attractive idea ? The retrofit is for you ! This market is emerging in France but holds great promise. 

What is the retrofit ?

The retrofit is the transformation of a vehicle with an internal combustion engine into an electric motor vehicle. This is a good example of a circular economy: giving old cars that are still able to be used an “electric” life rather than buying a new electric car. Electric retrofitting of vehicles is authorized in 25 countries, some of which are European. In Italy, the United Kingdom and even in Germany, where the practice has been authorized for several years, the market remains a little known niche market. 

A responsible approach to participate in the energy transition 

The objective is to transform polluting vehicles and for the majority old ones (from 15 to 20 years minimum). However, there are also some limits to be respected: the power must not exceed the one displayed during the homologation and the size of the battery (from 100 to 300 km of autonomy) varies according to the size of the vehicle because of the weight (10 to 15% of overweight are tolerated per axle). 

For French people, the electric retrofit presents itself as an alternative to the purchase of an electric car, still far too expensive for many of them. Indeed, an electric car, in addition to its high price, requires investments which leave doubtful about the so-called long-term economy that manufacturers claim. The average price of a car retrofit is between € 10,000 for a small city car and up to almost € 50,000 for a collector vehicle. Different alternatives could quickly lower this cost, such as the industrialization of the retrofit and state subsidies. 

Towards a democratization of retrofit in France 

The practice of electric retrofitting on cars could soon be legalized in France. Indeed, the Orientation Law on Mobility (LOM), on air since the end of 2019, will open up the market. The homologation of converted cars will therefore be possible, with a relaxation of the law of 1954 which asked the car to be expertised by a Les Mines engineer. The implementation of the practice should be formalized in the coming months. 

In addition, an association, the AIRE (Actors in the Electric Retrofit Industry) was created to “make known to public authorities, the economic world and to a larger audience the multiple benefits of turning regular engines into electric”. 

Several companies are already showing interest in this promising market, such as Oscaro and the Mobivia group. The manager of Retrofuture, Arnaud Pigounides, has announced quantified targets which suggest the potential size of the market: 360,000 cars transformed in five years, or 1% of the car fleet. The turnover would be 5 billion euros and generate 40,000 jobs in France. 

An entire sector to set up 

The retrofit attracts enthusiasts and other owners of classic cars, determined to bring them into the clean energy era. It is positioned as an accelerator of the energy transition but for this it is necessary that an entire sector is set up: retrofiter, distributor, certifiers, financiers, raters, leaser …

Proof that the initiative is interesting: ADEME (French agency for environment and energy) has just put the subject on its agenda and Grenoble, always ahead in terms of innovation, will soon offer assistance with retrofit.