These two-seat electric concept cars represent the future of urban transportation and give us a glimpse at how cars could look in the next 30 years, claims General Motors.
Although designed and built as concepts, these EN-V vehicles represent what GM's international operations design boss Ken Parkinson described as “an educated attempt to design something more appropriate for a congested, polluted urban future that we can already see coming.”
Unveiled in Shanghai last month, the three vehicles – the Xiao, Jiao and Miao – are based on the mechanicals of the Segway scooter. But instead of the driver rocking back and forth to control the car, drivers of the EN-V use a conventional steering system.
All three cars can be driven. They were engineered by GM's advanced R&D team in Michigan, and use the same mechanical platform, with two 3kW in-wheel motors powered by a lithium ion battery. Top speed is put at just 25mph and the range is 25 miles, but GM says this is sufficient for the kind of urban commute the EN-V cars would be used for. Each is a two-seater steered by a rectangular pad with two paddles on either side that control the throttle and brake.
The EN-V name stands for Electric Networked Vehicle, and each car can communicate with other vehicles. By using GPS and sensors mounted on the body, the EN-V can essentially drive itself. GM suggests a scenario in which the car could drive you to work, take itself off to a charging station and return to collect you in the evening.
This ability to monitor surroundings so closely leads GM to claim that the EN-V would be impossible to crash, so it has been designed without any crash structures. That helps to keep the weight down to 440lbs.
We wouldn't blame you for dismissing the EN-V cars out of hand. They look a little unusual and they're based on a Segway, after all. But they are important because they address the issue of adapting the car to the demands of the next 50 years.
The EN-V offers some intriguing possibilities. It's small enough to store inside or even put on a train. In the right conditions, it could even be driven from your breakfast table to your desk.
Even watching it move is fascinating. One drove around the stage at the launch, juggling its mass back and forth while executing 360-degree turns.
There are many reasons to be doubtful – crash safety, styling – but it looks increasingly like this is the future of urban transport. Given similar concepts from Renault, Nissan, Honda and Toyota over the past five years, two-seat commuter vehicles could become a reality in the next two decades. GM says its inspiration for the EN-V comes from the forecast that over two-thirds of the world's population will be living in cities by 2030.
Dan Stevens/Matt Saunders/Autocar