Renault Group

Sustainable Mobility Institute: 5 years in 5 questions

04 December 2014
Society’s need for mobility is not going away. Meanwhile the challenges multiply. As Renault marks 5 years partnering with the finest young minds in Science, environmental lead Dr Philippe Schulz explains the ground-breaking work of the Sustainable Mobility Institute.
by Renault Group

Wherever we live in the world, we need to get around, whether going to work or taking our kids to school. We also need transport for the products we consume, and to keep businesses running. Minimising the impact of mobility is key to giving our mobile lifestyles a lasting future. Sustainable mobility touches us all.

So in 2009, the Renault Foundation and ParisTech got together to form the Sustainable Mobility Institute, which has become a truly dynamic community of research and thought leadership. ParisTech is a network of top French science and engineering schools. Dr Philippe Schulz is lead expert at Renault for the environment, energy and raw materials.

Philippe Schulz

What are the stakes of sustainable mobility?

Philippe Schulz: “At a global level, there’s our need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in the context of climate change. Then there’s the fact that natural resources are depleting. This is a big one. Today, 60% of the world’s oil is used in transportation, and 25% of that is used for cars. In reducing our reliance on oil, we’re moving towards electric and hybrid vehicles. Yet even that move will require almost doubling the auto industry’s consumption of copper in the next 5 years. The smart way forward is most likely a mix of energy sources and a reduced consumption of primary raw materials, and more of recycled ones.

Local stakes are typically air pollution and air quality. In developed countries, car makers have made huge improvements, cutting emissions by as much as 90% in the last 30 years. But in cities like Beijing or New Delhi, the problem is far from solved. Solutions will have to be affordable.

How is Renault a player in sustainable mobility?

Philippe Schulz: “Renault is a recognised leader in sustainable mobility for everyone.  A big part of that is developing affordable technologies.

In 2013, Renault became the leader in Europe for low carbon vehicles, with average CO2 emissions for new cars sold below 115g/km.

Even in its conventional vehicles, Renault has achieved 30% greater fuel efficiency in the last 10 years with smaller, more efficient engines. Last month the Renault-Nissan Alliance sold its 200,000th electric vehicle, and now produces 58% of electric vehicles worldwide.

We think this is the way society will go. Electricity is mostly produced domestically, so more electric cars will mean countries can depend less on energy imports.

Through our research work at the Sustainable Mobility Institute, we are also convinced that the future lies in developing new services. Especially services that help customers reduce consumption by optimising their driving habits.

People can already experience it in every new Renault with the R-link app. By connecting with the car’s onboard computer, it helps the driver brake and change gears at the right time, adapt their speed to the local road conditions, and anticipate more.  It’s proven to help people save 15-20% on their fuel bill as well as boost safety.

There’s also the Eco 2 Challenge feature in Renault cars that helps you improve your fuel consumption trip after trip. It becomes like a game you play against yourself, and customers really appreciate it.” 

What is the role for Renault as a car manufacturer in coming years?

Philippe Schulz: “We are now entering a new world. New technologies are everywhere, and people expect information almost instantly. Renault has to anticipate strong changes that could impact our industry – perhaps more than other industries because we’re very close to the customer.

We can already see that growth will mainly appear in emerging markets. To illustrate, in 2000 the global car market reached 50 million cars worldwide of which 1 million in China. In

2020, the global car market will double to 100 million, of which at least 25 million in China. So a quarter of all cars sold worldwide will be in China.

At Renault, we will have to continue to adapt our products to new markets, new countries and new challenges, tackling congestion in different ways.

We also see a revolution coming in the next 5 to 10 years: the connected and then the autonomous car.  This represents a massive challenge for carmakers. But Renault understands that to remain an industry of the future, we must stay open to change, embracing new thinking and new technologies.

We need to identify where we can be of value and constantly reassess our role. Certainly, there will be value in services, and how we deliver those services to the driver and passengers.”

How is the Sustainable Mobility Institute supporting Renault’s efforts and vice versa?

Philippe Schulz: “The Institute is a very efficient way for Renault to be connected to the world, and stay in touch with the most recent developments. ParisTech is a network of major science schools with specialists across many disciplines, from chemistry and chemical engineering to IT technologies, natural resources, mechanics, and climate economics.

What we have here is a hothouse of talent. A community connecting people from different sciences with different skills to foster cross fertilisation. Renault feeds them challenging real-world projects that help develop their skills further.

This partnership is proving an elegant way for Renault to look far beyond the scope of short term goals. We get together for two seminars each year, and after 5 years of constant exchanges, growing friendships and shared projects, we are a real community.

Of course some research is confidential, but much information is open to all, to encourage even wider collaboration. With the Institute, we have successfully created a kind of antenna to capture even weak signals from science and society, which we can convert into technologies or services.

Can you share any concrete examples of the Institute’s work?

Philippe Schulz: “The Sustainable Mobility Institute gives Renault unique access to skills and knowledge from a diverse spread of disciplines. This has proved very useful in theoretical work but also in solving practical problems.

For example, in Renault’s ongoing development of electric vehicles, there were some nagging questions about environmental performance.  The Institute was able to produce a series of studies that looked at many aspects of energy production, consumption, and efficiency, and then produced an extremely useful model of the electric vehicle ecosystem which will guide future work.

In another example, the Institute identified a risk early, allowing Renault to anticipate. Most electric vehicles rely on elements called “rare earth” that are mined almost entirely in China. Risk became reality in 2010 with the rare earth crisis, when the price of rare earth oxides increase by 1,000 times. Renault was unaffected, having switched to a copper-based engine.

The Institute is now an established community with clear results, and working closely with Renault decision-makers on thinking that triggers positive action. We’re helping prepare a stronger future.”

More info on

Sustainable Mobility Institute

5 years on a mission

2009: Renault, Renault Foundation and ParisTech join forces

Mission: conduct research on the future of personal transportation and electric mobility

Goals: promote research into innovative mobility systems, and train the next wave of talent in science and management for the transportation sector