World's Fair events traditionally offered exciting idealistic takes on what the future may hold. So far, it looks like Expo 2010, which opens in Shanghai this summer, will carry on that tradition with a theme of "Better City, Better Life." According to GM, this trio of new urban mobility concepts that will be shown at the Expo 2010 in Shanghai this summer is one part of the equation. The first public debut of these EN-V concepts will be at the Beijing auto show next month.
GM and Chinese partner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) are again projecting 20 years into the future, when it is believed that urban areas will accommodate more than 60 percent of the world's 8 billion people. This will put tremendous pressure on a public infrastructure that is already struggling to meet the growing demand for transportation and basic services. If living standards are to continue rising and the denizens of this crowded future still hope to enjoy personal mobility (predictions put the vehicle fleet at 1.2 billion cars), the paradigm has to shift. Radically.
The three concepts making their official debut in a few weeks at the Shanghai Auto Show represent further development of the Personal Urban Mobility & Accessibility (PUMA) concept unveiled at last year's New York Auto Show. They are collectively referred to as EN-V, for Electric Networked Vehicles. Each is a different GM Design studio's take on styling a minimalist carbon fiber and polycarbonate cocoon over what is essentially a two-seat, two-wheel, electric Segway chassis. Their English names translate to Pride, Laugh, and Magic, which enjoy a rhyming affinity in Chinese (Jiao, Xiao, and Miao respectively). Chinese mega-city commuters currently expend 30 percent of their fuel looking for parking, in part because today's cars require almost 280 square feet of parking space per car (including aisles) and spend 90 percent of their time parked. But these highly maneuverable EN-V triplets can turn around in just 5.7 feet so they require just 47 square feet of parking (that's about six EN-Vs to one "normal" car). Because most urban trips are one to three miles in length and are covered at low speeds, these urban mobility vehicles don't need 300-mile range and 100-mph capability, so the lithium-iron phosphate battery pack is limited to a 25-mile range and the combined 12-hp of the two DC motors top out 25 mph.
Measuring 59.0-60.5 inches long and 55.0-56.0 inches wide, they take up about the same space as six pedestrians, and at about 900 pounds plus occupants, they weigh about what six pedestrians would, meaning that elevated lanes dedicated to such personal mobility devices would only have to meet pedestrian/bike lane standards of structural strength. Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications will coordinate with GPS navigation, onboard ultrasonic sensors and camera vision systems to enable the drive-by-wire system to autonomously park and retrieve the car as well as offer auto-pilot commuting while occupants video-conference with friends.
Seated occupants can't control the EN-V the way a standing Segway operator does, so control is via a video-game-like rectangular steering yoke controller that you turn to steer, while pivoting the hand grips forward to accelerate or back to decelerate. Dynamic stabilization keeps the vehicle balanced on its two wheels by sliding the seating platform, battery pack, and bodywork forward and aft relative to the chassis. Parking the EN-V cars lowers the front into contact with the ground, facilitating easy egress out of the single front door, which opens upward.
There is no suspension, per se, beyond the give in the 120/70-17 series Avon RoadRider tires, and Segway and GM officials wouldn't say how steep a grade the vehicles can negotiate without bottoming or tipping over. These issues would be problematic if these things were to suddenly take to the mean streets and parking structures of New York City, but this system really imagines a from-scratch urban design approach that would involve dedicated infrastructure for pedestrian/bike/EN-V type vehicles, and we're to trust that the bold new future world will maintain these lanes meticulously (and with no heavy traffic that should be easier).
GM claims that operating costs for the typical Chinese urban dweller, given reduced toll and parking costs, and today's electricity pricing would be less than one-quarter that of operating and parking a Chevy Malibu in a megacity, with electricity costs amounting to just $123 for 15,000 miles. To get a look at the bold future of urban living, join the 70 million people who are expected to visit Expo 2010, the Shanghai World's Fair during its six-month run, which opens May 1.