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 (self-driving) 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.
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," Mercedes-Benz 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 Mercedes-Benz 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 flat-floored car enough space for lounge seating for two.