The first of the concept cars we'll see at this year's Frankfurt Motor Show has broken cover in the form of the Renault FRENDZY. It's the fourth Renault concept car based on the company's most recent design strategy of specifically addressing the needs of the different human "life stages", at least those life stages that Renault deems important.
This grand Renault vision builds on what it calls, "the bonds that are gradually forged between the brand and its customers at watershed moments of their lives, such as when they fall in love, begin to explore the world, start a family, begin work, take time out to play and gain wisdom."
The all-electric two-seater DeZir expresses 'falling in love', and was supposedly representative of "the passion present at the beginning of any new adventure." Just the same, whomever is doing Renault's research might like to take a look at a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology entitled "Peacocks, Porsches and Thorstein Veblen: Conspicuous Consumption as a Sexual Signaling System," which concludes that flashy sports cars are more about getting laid than falling in love. Maybe that's the same thing in France?
So while I'm extremely dubious about the wisdom of Renault's life stages strategy, having been there to see the DeZir when it was unveiled, I was amazed at how much better it looked in real life than in the photos. The pics simply do not do it justice. It might have a distinctly onanistic rationale but it sure looks great.
The second in the series was the Renault Captur, which surfaced earlier this year and addressed the second phase of Renault's life stage cycle, that of "two people exploring the world around them" - maybe not exactly the watershed moment one expects to be the second great life stage, but a handy handle if the marketplace for crossover vehicles is surging. Captur was a fun and sporty crossover, and ideal for a young couple about to discover the world according to Van den Acker.
The most recent in the series is the R-Space concept car, which was also shown at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show. The R-Space represented the "Family" stage in the company's life-cycle oriented design strategy and used the design language developed in the previous two cars to create a sculptured people carrier. The R-Space was powered by a turbocharged three-cylinder, 110 bhp, 900cc petrol engine mated to an Efficient Dual Clutch transmission (EDC), previewing the new range of modular TCe engines that Renault will begin launching next year.
As the fourth car in the series, the all-electric FRENDZY caters to the combined needs of work and family and is an electric commercial vehicle, which uses an asymmetrical body and a raft of new technology to be both commercially viable and family friendly.
Renault's premise behind the dual personality of the FRENDZY concept is that our professional and personal lives are becoming so interwoven that one vehicle offering two distinct modes is an ideal life partner for people within this "life stage."
As Renault's Design Director of Concept and Show Cars, Axel Breun, puts it: "FRENDZY is efficient and modern as a work tool, yet sporting and warmly welcoming for the family".
The asymmetric body is the key to the concept. The passenger side is essentially the "working" side of the FRENDZY. There are no windows, and no center pillar, just a conventional door and a sliding side door designed for ease-of-loading.
On the right side of the FRENDZY is a large external screen that can display advertising messages, à la Bladerunner. It's the first time I have seen a screen used externally for this purpose in a concept vehicle, and the move has its pros and cons.
I personally like the Sao Paulo solution to visual pollution - that of banning all outdoor advertising because it's ugly and detracts from our urban environment. Beyond the aesthetic aspects of a large digital screen on the FRENDZY, there's also an argument that putting moving pictures on a vehicle on public roads is the height of stupidity in that it is designed to take other drivers' attention away from the task at hand.
In the cold hard commercial world, the addition of an extra advertising display that can be adapted to the time of day and the location of the vehicle might squeeze an extra bit of business.
Viewed another way though, the external screen does face towards the footpath, and unlike external commercial vehicle signage which is currently static and can't be turned off, an electronic messaging system which during the week proclaims the name of the company and can be turned off for home usage certainly has its merits.
Given that Renault has been the top-selling commercial vehicle manufacturer in Europe for more than a decade, and that France is the home of the world's largest outdoor advertising company, the external display is no doubt a recognition of marketplace trends. The world is trending towards more self employment and multiple roles, so changeable signage makes sense.
The external display is controlled by a BlackBerry PlayBook, which docks on the center console next to the driver, or can be undocked and passed rearward to smaller tribal members for rear passenger movie watching or gaming.
For automotive enthusiasts unfamiliar with the PlayBook, it has a seven-inch touchscreen, weighs just 425 grams and apart from web browsing and multimedia support, it leverages Research in Motion's long-time strengths of advanced security features and out-of-the-box enterprise support to offer "office on wheels" functionality.
When the tablet is plugged in, it becomes an integral element of the vehicle and configures itself into the Renault environment.
The driver's side is the family side of the van, and it has side windows and center opening doors for ease-of-entry for the tribe, and inside the van, the right-side-sliding-door that incorporates the external 37-inch widescreen display sports a special blackboard-style slate for the children to draw on.
The clever use of technology to change the vehicle's mode from work to play has been leveraged in the extreme. In changing from commercial to family, the vehicle's interior adopts both a different 'sound signature' and a different interior ambient lighting system.
The driver's side dashboard appears to be made from molten metal and is designed around the theme of a futuristic 'work bench.' Green lights emanating from the dashboard signify "work" mode and tie in with the color displayed on the exterior of the vehicle to convey the vehicle's mode. In "family" mode, the interior green color theme turns a warmer and happier orange.
Perhaps the most useful feature which we haven't previously seen in a commercial vehicle, but will almost certainly become standard fitment at some point in the future, is the location of an RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) reader in each of the door frames, enabling the driver to log the loading or unloading of packages equipped with RFID chips to enable a real-time inventory of the goods being carried in their vehicle.
Given Renault's previous listing of one's life stages, it seems that the next concept will be about "gaining wisdom." I can't wait.