Making cars and protecting the environment might sound like incompatible passions, but not for Laurence Montanari. As head of the EZ-FLEX project at Renault, pursuing both commitments in tandem actually is part of her job description.
“My love of nature, the forest and the great outdoors, in general, has influenced the projects I lead,” Montanari said. “I want to preserve the environment for generations to come.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Montanari was instrumental in the early conceptual phases of the Twizy, Renault’s two-seat quadricycle. Critics dubbed it ‘Ovni,’ meaning ‘UFO,’ but consumers disagreed. First released in April 2011, it quickly became popular across Europe. Worldwide, 15,000 Twizys sold by April 2015, growing to global cumulative sales of 21,874 units through December 2018. Renault hopes to sell 15,000 more Twizys by 2024, mainly through a partnership with the Korean Postal Service.
“The Twizy was, and still is, something very daring,” Montanari said. “But Renault acknowledged this and produced it anyway. It’s only just been copied by our competitors; it’s taken almost 10 years for this to happen.”
Montanari’s next project pushes the boundaries between transportation and the environment even further.
“I’m looking after a new urban delivery project called EZ-FLEX,” she said. “It’s part of a vehicle experimentation project led by the upstream engineering team at Renault Group, LCI (Laboratoire Collaboratif d’Innovation). Via this project, we’re aiming to create a proof-of-concept delivery vehicle for the future.”
REINVENTING PARCEL DELIVERY
McKinsey projects that growth in online shopping will double the number of parcel deliveries over the next 10 years. For the last stage of deliveries to homes and offices, most carriers use standard vans of similar size and shape, leading to escalating congestion and pollution. Montanari aims to change this.
“When you live on a street and see three large vans delivering to the same building 10 minutes apart, with permanent double parking, this clearly has an impact on the quality of life,” she said. “That is what we are trying to improve. Delivery firms are under increasing pressure to deliver more parcels, more quickly, with less cost, and in an environmentally responsible way. Cities, logisticians and original equipment manufacturers have to work together to create a mutually beneficial solution.”
Montanari looks forward to experimenting with a versatile, modular vehicle that can quickly adapt to and facilitate varied loading and unloading demands.
“Generally, logisticians use large vans for parcel delivery. They can’t be adapted for small volumes or urgent jobs. We want to change this by optimizing the vehicle’s footprint,” she said. “We will look at the cockpit, the driving position, the interface with the delivery person, how we manage the unloading of the vehicle – all of these elements will be broken down.”
Over the next two years, Montanari and her team will adopt a “test and learn” approach, which they believe is a new technique in the automotive industry.
“We have to deconstruct the vehicle to explore what is possible and then come up with functioning products that can be physically tested by customers,” she said. “That’s something we never usually do – we create concept cars, but they are not ready to be tested by customers.”
When trying to change the future, however, Montanari believes that curiosity and a willingness to take risks will separate winners from losers.
“It is necessary to think outside of the box because fixed ideas block innovation from happening,” she said. “Innovation has been in the DNA of Renault’s operation for the last 120 years, not only in its concepts, but in its approach to customers and employees. We have the latitude to maximize creativity in everything we do. We won’t wait to be told what is required – there is nothing better than being an actor of change.”