The Future of Automotive Transportation

The reinvention of the car is not just going to be an exercise in transforming powertrains, particularly in the world of 2030, when 60% of the people on the planet will live in cities. Crowded cities.

This is what the future of automotive transportation looks like. Or at least it is one possibility. Specifically, it is a General Motors EN-V concept, the Jiao, or Pride, model. EN-V signifies "Electric Networked-Vehicle." The vehicle was designed at a GM European design studio. The vehicle is operating at the World Expo 2010 Shanghai at the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. Group (SAIC)-GM pavilion. There are two other variants of the EN-V at the World Expo: the Xiao, or Laugh, which was designed by the GM Holden studio in Australia, and the Miao, or Magic, which was designed by the GM advanced studio in Los Angeles.

As you look at the Pride, you may be thinking that this looks nothing like what you think the future of automotive transportation will look like. And Clay Dean, director of Advanced Design for GM, acknow-ledges that this is not the version of future transpor-tation, but a version.

"Think about moving around in cities," Dean suggests. And that's key to EN-V: cities and moving.


Because as Chris Borroni-Bird, director, GM Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts, points out, cities are the future for an increasing portion of the world population. Looking out to 2030—"far enough out to be visionary, but close enough to be within a person's lifetime," as he puts it—there will be about 60% of the world's population in cities. He cites figures from 2002 of the population density per square mile. While you may think that Manhattan is crowded, it is actually the wide-open spaces compared with, say, Shanghai: 40,000 people per square mile vs. 286,000 per square mile. You think rush hour is bad in New York? And realize that the percentage of people in cities today is 50% of the population, so this will be comparatively explosive growth.

"If you look at where the growth of the automobile industry is going to take place," Borroni-Bird says, "it is in the emerging markets, the growth markets like China and India. Cities are where the wealth resides"—meaning, that's where people can afford to buy cars—"and cities is where there are tremendous population densities."

And this isn't just something that is going to happen in 2030. In 2009 there were 13.6-million vehicles sold in China—compared with 10.4-million cars and trucks in the U.S.

Another item that Borroni-Bird cites: "In dense urban areas, about one-third of the fuel consumed is spent looking for parking."

He says, "We have to solve congestion and parking." Then adds the kicker that should be of concern to all associated with the automobile industry: "We don't want a scenario that people don't buy vehicles. And if we don't solve these issues, people will come to a similar conclusion."

An important point that can't be over-looked: While there are considerable efforts by every major automotive manufacturer in the world to make their cars and trucks more efficient through hybridization or electrification, and while that is beneficial from the standpoints of reducing emissions and saving fuel, Borroni-Bird makes an observation that puts those efforts through a slightly different lens: "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense making a vehicle more efficient if all it is going to do is be stuck in traffic."

It isn't just about the vehicle as object. It is about the vehicle in an environment.

And to that end, EN-V just isn't about being a small, two-person electric vehicle that has a top speed of 25 mph and a range of 25 miles. Undertaking this reinvention of the urban vehicle also has the element of connectivity.

Borroni-Bird explains that an EN-V can be considered to be a "node on a network." And the network consists of other vehicles that are similarly equipped with appropriate electronics, as well as of the surrounding traffic infrastructure. GM has demonstrated real-world capabilities in terms of autonomous driving, with the Chevrolet Tahoe that it engineered with Carnegie-Mellon University and other partners that won the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge by travelling unmanned for 60 miles, while negotiating through everyday obstacles that drivers face. It has demonstrated connectivity to vehicles, pedestrians, and the traffic infrastructure with its V2X (as in "vehicle to whatever") fleet that uses various sensors, transponders, GPS, and actuators to minimize accidents and to even smooth traffic flow.

With EN-V they want to go even further, not only so that the vehicle could drive itself, thereby freeing the "driver" to do the sorts of things that they presently do while driving and really shouldn't (e.g., texting, applying makeup, eating), but also be able to park itself—not like the parking systems available from Ford and Lexus today, but literally go find a spot and park itself without a driver.

Which leads to another aspect of this reinvention, one that, again, brings up the point that there needs to be involvement by municipalities in helping make it possible. As Clay Dean observes, "These types of solutions aren't created in a vacuum. We just aren't taking these vehicles and throwing them out there." Instead, there needs to be the development of special lanes or areas where vehicles of this type would operate, apart from other types of vehicles. Borroni-Bird adds, "We need to think about how these vehicles integrate in a system. They don't operate as stand-alone systems like refrigerators; they operate as a network."

 

The chassis of the EN-V (above) was developed by GM and Segway Inc. (segway.com). The two companies collaborated in 2009 on the Project P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility). This goes much further.

The EN-V chassis weighs 460 lb. (roughly half the weight of an entire vehicle) and consists of a cast magnesium lower chassis; an aluminum box containing the battery and gearbox; and stainless steel guide rails for the slide actuator that helps manage inertial forces. Lithium-ion batteries are used (the same type used in the Segway PT); there are brushless DC motors in each of the wheels (the wheels measure 17 x 4 in.).

On top of the chassis the body is fitted. It is a painted carbon fiber structure. Dean notes, "This provided us with a freedom of design that sheet metal wouldn't allow us to do." He adds, "Carbon fiber is safe, strong and light." There is a single door with a polycarbonate windscreen. There is no traditional instrument panel. No traditional steering wheel. No traditional seat (rather, what Dean describes as an "anatomical place. It's been distilled to the basics of surface.")

"It is a high tech vehicle, but still affordable. It doesn't have a 300-mile range. It doesn't go 100 mph. It is finely tuned to its mission. Today's vehicles are like Swiss Army knives. They can do everything. But that carries a lot of mass—and a lot of cost. This vehicle is a tailored tool," says Borroni-Bird.

"You have to approach this with an open mind. What we're doing is not the total answer. But in the advanced design and R&D worlds, we're saying what works and what doesn't work, and what we would do differently," says Dean. "The problem that we have in the industry today is that we're all too pragmatic. We all want to have what we believe is right, and we are afraid to step out of the box. With this, we're not just stepping out of the box, but out of the room."