If you’ve been following Mercedes’ recent run of concept cars lately, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Stuttgart is partying like it’s 1955. We don’t mean that that it’s behind the times — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s just that the automaker has been releasing a string of some of the most starry-eyed dream machines we’ve seen this side of the Motorama. And while these real no-foolin’ gee-whiz dream machines look like something out of science fiction, Mercedes-Benz isn’t one to waste anyone’s time, so what you see is more likely to be a vision of the future than any other concept at any given auto show.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the company unveiled the F 015 self-driving concept, one of the most fully-realized autonomous concepts to date. On top of driving itself, goodies like door cards that double as touchscreens were all fully functional, and to prove it, the company invited journalists to try it for themselves this spring. It followed the F 015 up with the Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile (IAA) concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show, which took active aerodynamics to the next level, and may be a preview the brand’s styling language going into the ’20s.
And for its third act of the year, Mercedes is going back to ideas explored in the F 015, and re-imagining them for an even younger demographic, one that will be living in urban environment. It’s called the Vision Tokyo concept, and it’s designed to show what city traffic could very well look like in the not too distant future. And it doesn’t pull any punches at pretending it’s a driver’s car either, because it isn’t.
Like Nissan’s Teatro for Dayz concept (also debuting at Tokyo), the Vision Tokyo is a stab at what young drivers in the future will be looking for in their cars. Unlike Nissan’s “Share Natives” speak, Mercedes’ PR is somewhat more measured in tone. The company says:
The role of the vehicle has changed for this global generation: it is no longer simply a means of getting around, but a digital, automobile companion. The Vision Tokyo takes things another step further: innovative algorithms allow it to evolve constantly; Deep Machine Learning and an intelligent Predictive Engine mean that, with each journey, it becomes more and more familiar with its occupants, their likes and preferences. All of which makes the Vision Tokyo the perfect partner for Generation Z.
Both the Nissan and Mercedes concepts are striving for the same result here, but Mercedes is taking a more evolutionary step in acknowledging that cars will become smarter and more integrated with other media, but still vehicles, not just bigger, more expensive cellphones.
The cabin is dominated by a lounge-style bench for six that Mercedes says was “optimized” for “face-to-face communication.” After all, “though the members of ‘Generation Z’ are frequent users of social media, they nevertheless prefer personal contact whenever possible.” The infotainment system is controlled by a series of holographs that hover in the center of the car, which is undeniably cool, but we wouldn’t expect to see it on the next-generation E-Class. Wraparound LED screens and backlit seats complete the ambiance.
And while the Vision Tokyo was designed for autonomous driving — thanks to a host of sensors and a 360-degree camera — Mercedes does envision a situation where humans might need to step in:
Should there be a requirement for the Vision Tokyo to be controlled manually rather than it driving autonomously, a seat facing in the direction of travel can be released from the centre of the couch at the front, rather like the “jump seat” in an aircraft cockpit. The steering wheel, too, is then moved from its standby position into driving position.
Autonomous cars are undeniably on the way, but the Vision Tokyo is one of the first concepts to do away with the driver’s seat altogether. It may seem shocking now, but there might come a day when you’re having to explain what they were to your grandkids.
And conforming with Toyota’s view of the future, the Vision Tokyo is a hydrogen/electric hybrid that can travel 980 kilometers (608 miles) between fuel stops. Production viability is approximately zero, but don’t be surprised to see a lot of this tech in future Mercedes models. Of the three big concepts Mercedes has unveiled this year, the Tokyo Vision isn’t exactly the sexiest, but who knows, maybe in 20 years our successors will think differently.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.
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