Designing the Ultimate Rideshare Vehicle

If you could have any car you wanted for rideshare or other gig work, what would it look like? What kinds of features would it have? Senior RSG contributor and auto expert Gabe Ets-Hokin takes us through what the ultimate rideshare vehicle could look like. Let us know what your ultimate rideshare vehicle would look like in the comments below!

Grab a pencil and a piece of paper. Got it? Now draw what you’d like to see in a rideshare vehicle based on your needs as a driver. What will it look like?

If we’re lucky, it won’t look like Nissan’s NV200 Taxi. This monstrosity, the result of the New York City Taxicab and Limousine commission’s “Future Cab” project of the late 2000s, puts an itty bitty engine into a giant yellow box with four passenger seats and an optional wheelchair ramp.

A gas guzzler (because of the overworked economy-car engine) with a reputation for unreliability wasn’t the recipe for taxi success. It died a quiet death in 2019 after the TLC allowed medallion holders to buy other cab models.

The vehicle wasn’t a success, and perhaps that saga highlights the fable of “a camel is a horse designed by committee.”

But the NV200 did have some valuable features that gig workers would appreciate. It had a big roomy cabin that was easy to get in and out of, it had a very comfortable driver seat with a large range of adjustment and upholstery designed to be cool and comfy, even after a long shift, a sliding door that wouldn’t get hit by passing cars when a careless passenger flung it open without looking, tons of luggage room and a safety light to alert following drivers the car was stopping.

Speaking as a veteran driver with 15 years combined rideshare and taxi experience, that all sounds great. Great for 2009, that is.

Today’s drivers have more needs, and a big one is technology. Where in 2009 a cabbie would probably only occasionally use their phone to call home, communicate with a few regular passengers or in emergencies, in 2021 we need that phone for…everything. Our smartphones must have power,  be in our line of sight and accessible, and having Bluetooth connectivity is a plus, if not an actual need. That means lots of USB ports front and back, and maybe a built-in phone mount.

The Ultimate Rideshare Vehicle Should Have Great Tech

Whelen remote-controlled LED spotlight. Photo: Whelen

Reader comments and feedback from focus groups we’ve conducted indicated the hardware features like the NV200 had resonated with drivers, but tech, especially connected tech that could help drivers is lacking in existing vehicles.

While better interior lighting is good—it helps delivery drivers read addresses on labels and helps passengers get in and out of the car quickly—dealing with spills and messes is another concern. A rideshare or delivery car should have easy-to-clean floor mats that can contain fluids (like beer, water, mud or the unmentionables that ooze from the human body itself) and keep the car from getting that old taxicab smell.

But let’s dive into the tech. Almost every new car on the market has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but these systems don’t support the Uber, Lyft or other gig work apps. A large touchscreen that mirrored the driver’s phone display would be great, as the larger characters and use of the vehicle audio system would help drivers accept rides or navigate to passengers without their eyes having to change their focus to see the much smaller images on their phones—this is important to older drivers (and there are a lot of us older drivers!).

Another tech feature that gets drivers interested is some kind of means of communicating with passengers before they get in the car. A scrolling ticker, perhaps in the front and rear windscreens (or projected on the side windows as well) that could display pre-programmed or driver-generated messages, could help passengers find their drivers at airports, concerts or other crowded situations, or just make the passenger feel welcomed with a personalized experience—meaning a possibility of better tips (stop laughing—this article is about dreaming, right?).

Drivers that operate in suburban or rural areas complain about searching for house numbers—how about a remote-controlled LED spot lamp? There are the old-timey chrome ones worked from a handle inside the car, but well-equipped cop cars have compact, high-intensity LED lights that are unobtrusive and very useful.

And speaking of lighting, a larger light bar on the back of the vehicle would make life easier, especially tied to a “making delivery, please carefully go around” kind of message on the ticker.

EV Options and Size: Uber Comfort is a Must!

Canoo “Lifestyle Vehicle.” Photo: Canoo

There are a lot of other preferences, but good luck getting drivers to agree on those. Some drivers live where gas is cheaper than electricity, so a hybrid powertrain that runs smoothly, reliably, and with enough power to blend in with traffic would do the job.

Other drivers are interested in all-electric EVs, so that option should be available as well.

Some drivers swear by doing XL and need the extra two seats, but many don’t think it’s worth the extra expenses and would be happy with four-passenger capacity.

However, we’d all love the option of doing Uber Comfort, so there would need to be plenty of passenger legroom. Oh and those sliding doors? Yes, please seems to be the consensus, especially if they can be opened and shut remotely.

What Would the Ideal Rideshare Vehicle Look Like?

Once we have these hardware features decided on, we can get a better picture of what this vehicle will look like.

Basically, I’d imagine a small minivan that can be extended 12 to 18 inches for the XL version. It could possibly be lower than a standard minivan for better aerodynamics, but it would likely have the wheels as close to the corners of the chassis as possible to maximize interior room, giving the vehicle a total footprint the size of a midsize or even compact car..

Canoo “Lifestyle Vehicle” interior can be configured with a bench or this lounge-style seating. Cocktails not included. Photo: Canoo

That’s where an EV design would show its advantage. Look at the Canoo,  a “lifestyle vehicle” concept that the company claims will be in production in the next two years (and don’t they always say that?).

With a “skateboard” chassis underpinning it, the Canoo (and most of the latest EV designs) is essentially a big box that can offer the interior room of a much bigger vehicle while still being easy to drive and maneuver in tight urban areas. It can be configured for five or seven passengers, as a cargo/delivery van, or even as a 5-passenger pickup truck and offers a 250-mile range. Sadly, there’s no mention of sliding doors.

Packaging what we want into a hybrid is trickier. Right now the only hybrid vehicle with a sliding door is the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which though very pricey at around $45,000, does have the ability to carry seven passengers and can be operated in silent EV-only mode for up to 30 miles.

However, when the electrons dry up, it runs as a regular hybrid and delivers about 30 mpg, not bad for an XL-capable minivan. Still, since most of the large automakers are clearly phasing out ICE (internal-combustion) platforms, it’s likely future rideshare vehicles will be all-electric.

Takeaways: Is the Best Car for Rideshare the One You’re Currently Driving?

But does any of this matter? When you ask rideshare drivers what the best rideshare vehicle is, the universal answer is almost always, “the one I’m driving.”

That’s because unlike taxi driving, rideshare work is almost infinitely flexible, which means the right vehicle can be different for every one of the million or so drivers in the US.

I hope someone from the auto industry reads this story and thinks about what we need in a car so that we can see some of these features in upcoming models. Until then, chime in below and tell us what you’d like to see in a rideshare vehicle.

Not sure which rideshare vehicle is right for you? Take a look at the articles below:

-Gabe @ RSG