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‘Taxi of the future’ heads to Manchester: Verne self-driving robo-taxi approved for use

City leaders have signed a letter of intent to introduce Verne self-driving taxis as part of a future transport policy

The taxi of the future is a luxuriously spacious, two-seat, self-driving electric car that must be hailed using an app from a ‘mothership’ facility in a city near you - Manchester, UK, that is.

That’s the vision of Croatian mobility tech start-up Verne, which is the brainchild of EV entrepreneur Mate Rimac and two of his long-time Rimac Group colleagues - Marko Pejković, now the chief exec of Verne, and Adriano Mudri, the designer of Rimac’s Nevera hypercar and now chief design officer for Verne.

The new Verne vehicle has been unveiled today in Zagreb at the Rimac Automotive technology ‘campus’, and has a suitably futuristic appearance with what designer Mudri calls “a smooth, encircling, space-ship like canopy on top with an elegant and solid lower body”.

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The space-age effect is reinforced inside by the absence of a steering wheel and pedals. Passengers step into the two-seat interior - which boasts more legroom than a Rolls-Royce and a unique ‘halo’ sunroof with rounded edges for panoramic cityscape views - start and finish their journey using a touchpad between the chairs. Occupants can use the touchscreen for journey information or to alter the vehicle settings - indeed Verne says its customers will also be able to personalise the vehicle settings prior to its arrival via the app, including variables such as interior lighting, temperature and even scent.

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If you think it all sounds a little far-fetched, the Verne founders beg to differ - they’ve promised to roll-out the first Verne program in Zagreb, Croatia in 2026, and contracts have been signed with other cities in the UK and Germany, including Manchester. To help make it happen, Verne has started building a new manufacturing complex for its vehicles in southern Croatia.

While the UK government recently enacted laws enabling self-driving vehicles to be used on the road, the self-driving technology underpinning Verne - developed by US-listed firm MobilEye - is not ready to be fully unleashed on an unsuspecting public. That being the case, the initial projects will be limited to clearly defined and controlled areas where the vehicles are deemed safe to use, so it’s possible they could be rolled out by cities in certain areas accompanied by other measures to control or reduce traffic.

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Verne was named after the celebrated author Jules Verne, who the company says “imagined humanity’s potential through amazing journeys”, and the taxi is not just a vehicle, but “an Urban Autonomous Mobility Ecosystem consisting of three elements; vehicle, app and ‘the mothership”. These motherships will be specialised infrastructure installations, where Verne vehicles will be recharged, inspected, cleaned and maintained daily, to ensure customers always get clean and safe vehicles, the company promises. The first mothership will be constructed in Zagreb next year, along with the new vehicle factory for large scale production of autonomous vehicles that can be deployed worldwide.

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After Zagreb, Manchester and German cities will follow, and Verne says it has already signed agreements with 11 cities across the EU, UK and Middle East, with 30 more cities in negotiations. Verne lists the benefits to cities of its products as economic and social, allowing planners to reduce city centre car usage, free up traffic lanes and parking spaces, and create more space for people. Verne also aims to positively impact the environment by reducing the number of cars needed, and “turning parking space into public usage space”.

At Verne, we believe it’s not about being the first, but about creating the perfect customer experience, says Rimac. “Every customer will have a better service than the best mobility service enjoyed by the very rich, through the service that is affordable for all. You will have a safe and reliable driver, a vehicle with more interior space and comfort than the best limousines today, and a service that will be tailored to your needs in every possible way.”

Some may question the decision to build only a two seater, but Mudri reckons that data shows 9 out of 10 rides taken in existing taxis are for only one or two people. “We can satisfy most of all trips with a two-seater and create unmatched interior space in a compact-sized vehicle,” he says. “Sliding doors were designed not to obstruct traffic flow around the vehicle while still arriving in style. Once inside, passengers can stretch out their legs and get super comfortable. We wanted to make the interior less automotive and more like a living room.” To that end, dashboard, steering wheel and pedals are replaced by an ultra-wide 43-inch display and 17-speaker audio system.

Click here for our list of the cheapest electric cars...

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Current affairs and features editor

Chris covers all aspects of motoring life for Auto Express. Over a long career he has contributed news and car reviews to brands such as Autocar, WhatCar?, PistonHeads, Goodwood and The Motor Trader.

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