Travel smartly and safely in the fu­ture city

TECH­NOL­OGY/ Daim­ler’s Smart city brand plans to go all elec­tric and the Frank­furt con­cept shows how, writes Michael Tay­lor

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

The Vi­sion EQ Fortwo con­cept car backs up Smart’s be­lief that high-rise dwellers will lead the way in switch­ing to elec­tric and au­tonomous cars.

Daim­ler’s city-car spe­cial­ist brand has shown its hand on ur­ban mo­bil­ity with a preview of the Vi­sion EQ Fortwo be­fore its of­fi­cial un­veil­ing at the Frank­furt mo­tor show next week.

Chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer An­nette Win­kler in­sists the EQ Fortwo is un­der pro­duc­tion devel­op­ment and she plans to in­clude the tiny, two-seat au­tonomous bat­tery-elec­tric vehicle (BEV) in Daim­ler’s Car2Go car-shar­ing pro­gramme by 2030. “The Smart Vi­sion EQ Fortwo is our vi­sion of fu­ture ur­ban mo­bil­ity — fully au­tonomous, with max­i­mum com­mu­ni­ca­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties and elec­tric.”

The con­cept makes the leap from Smart’s cur­rent pro­duc­tion au­tonomous (self­driv­ing) ca­pac­ity of Level None to full Level Five, mean­ing it can drive it­self any­where, any­time, with no hu­man in­ter­ven­tion and no driv­ing con­trols.

Win­kler hinted at tak­ing Smart all-elec­tric, us­ing the cover of Daim­ler’s new EQ zero-emis­sion sub-brand and in­sisted the Vi­sion EQ Fortwo would eke more than 300km of range out of its 30kWh lithium-ion bat­tery, which it cou­ples to a rear-mounted elec­tric mo­tor.

When it’s not re­quired for car-shar­ing du­ties, the Vi­sion EQ Fortwo will be able to drive it­self to an in­duc­tive charg­ing sta­tion, with no need for help to plug in ca­bles.

How­ever, it’s not the first small, BEV, au­tonomous city car con­cept out there, and it’s not even the first one to look more or less like this. Kia de­buted its Pop con­cept at the Los An­ge­les mo­tor show in Novem­ber 2012 and it’s dis­turbingly sim­i­lar in con­cep­tion, size and shape.

The two-seat Kia ran on lithium-poly­mer gel bat­ter­ies to give it 160km of range, had an OLED panel to send mes­sages to pedes­tri­ans and other road users, plus an il­lu­mi­nated grille. Like the Smart, it was also de­signed in Ger­many, in Kia’s ad­vanced de­sign stu­dio in Frank­furt.

STEP FOR­WARD

The step for­ward from there to the Smart is that the Daim­ler brand’s con­cept uses swarm in­tel­li­gence, which im­plies that Smart’s car-shar­ing net­work should be­come more con­ve­nient and pre­dictable.

“In the fu­ture car shar­ing users will not have to look for the next avail­able car — it will find them and col­lect pas­sen­gers di­rectly from their cho­sen lo­ca­tion,” Win­kler says.

Smart clearly be­lieves that its fu­ture suc­cess is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked with car shar­ing, es­pe­cially given that peo­ple have never bought enough Smarts to make the brand prof­itable on con­ven­tional busi­ness mod­els.

Car2Go shares a Smart ev­ery 1.4 sec­onds around the world and has 2.6-mil­lion cus­tomers, though it pre­dicts that will boom out to 36.7-mil­lion by 2025.

Smart has used its Trid­ion high-strength steel struc­ture as the ba­sis for all its mod­els since its 1998 de­but, though the Vi­sion EQ Fortwo up­grades this with a pod-style safety cell that gives a taste of fu­ture con­ven­tional Smart de­sign lan­guage.

Far more rounded than cur­rent mod­els, it uses an ovoid door de­sign, an arc­ing roof and pro­nounced wheel arches to give it its stance and to house its 18-inch wheels and tyres.

At 2,700mm long, it’s still about the same length as the Smart Fortwo, but its 1,720mm width is 51mm broader than the pro­duc­tion car and its 1,534mm height is 25mm lower.

“The Vi­sion EQ Fortwo is a rad­i­cal ap­proach,” MercedesBenz chief de­sign of­fi­cer Gor­den Wa­gener says. “It has the hall­mark Smart pro­por­tions with ac­cen­tu­ated wheel arches and no over­hangs as well as the next level of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and per­son­al­i­sa­tion.”

Like the Kia con­cept car, the Vi­sion EQ Fortwo fea­tures a trape­zoidal grille with black panel dis­play that can com­mu­ni­cate dig­i­tally with the out­side world (just like the MercedesBenz EQ C elec­tric car con­cept), while the head­lights wink at pedes­tri­ans to tell them they have safe pas­sage.

Win­kler says cus­tomers will use their phones or tablets to sum­mon their au­tonomous shared cars and could choose to share with other Car2Go users or travel alone.

Un­like cur­rent Smarts, the con­cept car’s doors pivot back­wards and move par­al­lel to the sides of the car to let peo­ple out eas­ily in tight car parks.

There is no steer­ing wheel in the cabin, with all func­tions con­trolled by a smart­phone or voice con­trol, which gives the flat­floored car enough space for lounge seat­ing for two.

The Smart Vi­sion EQ Fortwo could be a re­al­ity for Daim­ler’s car-shar­ing plat­form by 2030. Left: The in­te­rior re­flects the fact that the con­cept is a full Level 5 au­tonomous pod.

The in­te­rior re­flects the fact that the con­cept is a full Level 5 au­tonomous pod for the city.

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