Electric and autonomous concept highlights
A review of some of the most significant autonomous, connected, and electrified concept and production vehicles of the Fall 2017 auto show season.
The world’s automakers were busy this past fall with concept vehicle reveals containing significant autonomous, connected, and electrified technology. From the Frankfurt to Tokyo motor shows, here are some of the standout design and technology designs with an eye toward future mobility.
- Audi Aicon
- Smart Vision EQ
- BMW i Vision Dynamics
- Mercedes-Benz Concept EQA
- Mini Electric Concept
- Renault Symbioz
- General Motors SURUS
- Lexus LS+ Concept
- Toyota Fine-Comfort Ride
- Honda Sports EV
- Nissan IMx
The star of Audi’s 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show was the Aicon, showing how the brand intends to further develop autonomous driving. The SAE Level 5 four-door technology demonstrator has no steering wheel or pedals and combines innovations relating to drivetrain, suspension, digitalization, and sustainability.
The electrically powered concept gets to know drivers and their individual preferences by continuously learning, with the company employing AI to automate the driving task. To go along with its sleek exterior, designers created an interior with a new sense of space and a very modern digital user experience, providing occupants with an additional living room, a second office, or an extra area for wellness and relaxation. The Aicon, if produced, would be Audi’s largest sedan, at 240 mm (9.4 in) longer than the longest new A8 at 5444 mm (214.3 in). Other key dimensions of the D-segment car are width of 2100 mm (82.7 in), height of 1506 mm (59.3 in), and wheelbase of 3470 mm (136.6 in).
Audi says the Aicon’s laser and radar sensor system “sees” in the dark, so there are no long-range headlights for the passengers. They are freed to use myAudi services or even close their eyes for a while. When passengers exit the Aicon in the dark, a “light companion” (a mini-drone with a flashlight) safely illuminates their path.
The two front seats slide up to 500 mm (19.7 in) fore and aft on a carpeted platform, on which the passengers’ feet or legs (in elevated height) can rest. The front seats also swivel up to 15 degrees, outward for ingress/egress and inward for passenger interaction. Positionable touch-sensitive control interfaces in the encircling door rail move with the front seats. The rear two-seat bench is integrated into the rear panel.
When entering, passengers are greeted by an LED display and a welcome message. An “empathetic” electronic vehicle assistant recognizes passengers by phone and activates their personal settings for air conditioning, seating position, interior light color, and infotainment system layout—and the navigation system awaits destination instructions.
The AIcon’s electric drive features a motor per wheel to enable variable quattro all-wheel drive. The floor-mounted batteries of undisclosed chemistry are said to have considerably more energy capacity than current lithium-ion batteries. The motors produce a total of 260 kW and 550 N·m (406 lb·ft), but maximum acceleration plays second fiddle to maximum efficiency and range. Targeted lightweight construction of the multimaterial body and optimized aerodynamics help achieve a 700 to 800 km (435 to 497 mi) range on a single charge. Charging of the high-voltage (800-V) battery pack can be done to 80% capacity in less than 30 min or inductively/wirelessly—both without human assistance.
The fully active suspension is designed for comfort, with pneumatic spring/damper units, and electric actuators actively counteract body lean when cornering, accelerating, or braking. Braking is primarily by way of recuperation to recharge the batteries, and the secondary disk brakes are repositioned from the wheels to near the drivetrain to improve vehicle aerodynamics and reduce unsprung mass. The steering shaft and hydraulics have been eliminated, and the all-wheel steering system allows the long-wheelbase car to have a turning radius of just 8.5 m (28 ft).
The Vision EQ Fortwo from the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show provides a look at Smart’s take on future urban mobility and individualized, highly flexible, and efficient local public transport. The concept highlights the elements that make up parent company Daimler’s CASE (Connected, Autonomous, Shared & Services, and Electric) strategy.
The two-seat autonomous and electric concept, which measures 2699 mm (106.3 in) long, 1720 mm (67.7 in) wide, and 1535 mm (60.4 in) tall, is the first vehicle from Daimler to dispense with a steering wheel and pedals. Individualization options can help users recognize their vehicle via a black panel grille upfront as well as large projection surfaces on the sides. Freed from the task of driving, the passengers are able to relax in the “large interior.”
The vehicle’s car-sharing concept could transform “urban traffic” into “city flow,” and it will build upon learnings by Daimler subsidiary car2go, the free-floating car-sharing service. It can be hired and left anywhere in the designated “home” area.
Thanks to swarm intelligence and autonomous driving, users of the Vision EQ Fortwo concept do not have to look for the next available car; it will find and collect them directly from their chosen location. Because of the resulting predictability of demand, a car will probably already be nearby, as the interconnected vehicles will be nearly always on the road. The idea is to increase vehicle utilization and decrease the number of required parking spaces.
Possible ride-sharing passengers, suggested based on their saved profiles and current travel plans, can be accepted or rejected. When two passengers are onboard, the large display in the interior can show shared interests.
The Smart Vision EQ Fortwo is summoned using a mobile device and can be recognized by users by the 105 x 40 cm (41 x 16 in) black panel upfront. LED displays in place of headlamps can take on a classic look or an eye-like shape to communicate on a “more human level.” The rear lamps can be conventional or provide information related to warnings or traffic. The front grille can communicate information with other road users such as pedestrians and if the car is occupied. If the car is unoccupied, information about local events, the weather, news, or the time can be displayed on the side displays.
When not in use, the car finds its way to a charging station to top up its 30-kW·h lithium-ion battery. It can dock with the power grid inductively and can act as a “swarm battery” to take pressure off the grid.
The concept’s door design is new; each side door pivots wing-like over the rear axle, making for easier access, parking in smaller spaces, and reducing the chance of collision with cyclists and pedestrians. Rose-gold-colored elements in the wheels and diffuser identify the electric drive system and create a bridge to corporate EQ design.
Without a steering wheel and pedals, vehicle functions are controlled via a mobile device or voice input. The instruments are replaced by a 24-in screen surrounded by a rose-gold-colored frame and two smaller 4-in displays that can “welcome” the occupants. A lounge-like bench seat has a retractable center armrest that serves as a separation between occupants and stowage facility. Other stowage options are available on the floor and under the bench seat, secured under blue rubber tightening straps.
The i Vision Dynamics concept is mostly a design exercise that looks ahead at a BMW e-mobility experience of the future “with a new level of sporting elegance,” according to the company. The fully electric four-door is said to have a range of 600 km (373 mi), a top speed more than 200 km/h (120 mph), and acceleration of 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) in 4 s.
It fits into a more aggressive e-mobility strategy communicated by Harald Krüger, Chairman of the Board of Management at BMW AG, at the IAA 2017: “We have more electrified vehicles on the road than any established competitor, and are committed to expanding our activities in the field of electric mobility as part of our NUMBER ONE > NEXT strategy. By 2025 we will be offering 25 models with an electrified drive system—of which 12 will be pure-electric.”
The new concept would fit into the BMW range between current i3 and i8 production cars. It represents an evolution of classical BMW proportions: long wheelbase, flowing roofline, and short overhangs. Aerodynamic requirements define some of the car’s progressive details, from barely visible body joins to flush integration of glass.
The unique window graphics are said to preview an interior experience of the future related to the concept’s semi-autonomous and connected driving. The side window’s virtually symmetrical forms allow all passengers an equally good view out—highlighting the attention paid to the passengers and future shared driving experience. The riding experience is enhanced by full-length glass surfacing from the windscreen to rear window, heightening the sense of spaciousness inside.
In front, two more BMW design cues get updates. The very prominent, enclosed grille “kidneys,” which previously symbolized the company’s expertise in drive system development, are now designed as “declarations of technological know-how”—with underlying sensors turning the kidneys into an “intelligence surface.” The classical BMW four-headlight front end is reinterpreted with two more modern and intricate LED light elements on each side of the car’s grille. In back, the most eye-catching feature are the L-shaped slim-cut lights that accentuate a wide vehicle stance.
The Concept EQA from the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show demonstrates how Mercedes- Benz plans to introduce its EQ (electric intelligence) strategy to the compact class. “With the Mercedes-Benz Concept EQA, our electric initiative is gathering pace: by 2022 Mercedes-Benz Cars will have more than 10 all-electric vehicles on the market,” stated Dr. Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.
With its two-box design and its short overhangs, the Concept EQA measures 4285 mm (190.0 in) long, 1810 mm (71.3 in) wide, and 1428 mm (56.2 in) tall, on a wheelbase of 2729 mm (107.4 in). The concept presents another evolution of the brand’s Sensual Purity design idiom, with sharp edges and lines being significantly reduced. Laser and fiber-optic cable technology was employed to create a light signature evoking the copper windings of an electric motor and an animation of electrical impulses. A black virtual radiator grille changes its look according to the drive program.
Drive system output in top spec of over 200 kW and 500 N·m (295 lb·ft) can propel the car from 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62 mph) in around 5 s. With one electric motor each at the front and rear axles, the permanent all-wheel-drive system can vary front to rear torque distribution with two drive programs—Sport and Sport Plus.
A highly efficient and modular lithium-ion battery design with pouch cells, supplied by Daimler subsidiary Deutsche Accumotive, gives the EQA a capacity of over 60 kW·h and a top range of around 400 km (248 mi). The car is said to be ready for “rapid” charging via induction or wallbox and is “seamless” at public charging stations thanks to Mercedes’ me-based service. At a rapid charging station, the concept can be charged in less than 10 min to produce a range of 100 km (62 mi).
The first series-produced model of the new EQ product brand, the EQC, is set to be produced at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Bremen from 2019. It is based on the Concept EQ exhibited at the 2016 Paris Motor Show.
Mini used the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show to showcase its take on future personal mobility in the city with its Electric Concept in preparation for an all-electric series-production model in 2019. “The systematic electrification of the brand and product portfolio is a mainstay of the BMW Group’s NUMBER ONE > NEXT strategy,” remarked Harald Krüger, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG.
Company engineers will build upon the development experience with the Mini E unveiled in 2008, the first all-electric car from the BMW Group to be driven by private users in everyday traffic conditions as part of an extensive field trial.
In July, Mini announced that its 2019 battery-electric car, similar in design to the Electric Concept, will be a variant of the brand’s core three-door model, increasing the choice of powertrains to include petrol and diesel internal combustion engines, a plug-in hybrid, and the battery electric vehicle. The electric drivetrain will be built at the BMW Group’s e-mobility center at Plants Dingolfing and Landshut in Bavaria before being integrated into the car at Plant Oxford, which is the main production location for the three-door model.
For the Electric Concept, Mini modernized its design language for the concept through updates to signature hexagonal radiator grille and circular headlights with a Mini E contrasting silver and yellow color scheme and distinctive E badging. As the electric drive unit requires very little cooling air, aerodynamic details include closed radiator grille and front apron “air intakes.” The 19-inch wheels have aerodynamic inlays made using a 3D printing process. The rear light assemblies each form one half of the Union Jack as an LED dot matrix.
Renault’s Symbioz is an integrated electric house and car concept that extends the vision of autonomous, electric, and connected cars to a future when vehicles are fully interact with connected homes, cities, other vehicles, and road infrastructure—all to enable more personal preferences in travel, energy, and entertainment. “Looking to 2030 we imagine new scenarios with more efficient energy use, connectivity, and autonomous driving scenarios that will improve how we live and travel,” said Groupe Renault Executive Vice President and Chief Competitive Officer Thierry Bolloré.
The overall Symbioz concept, shown at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, was developed for the home and car to share electrical energy, with kilowatt-hours distributed through a smart grid shared by car and home that anticipates consumer needs via artificial intelligence. For example, the car’s batteries could temporarily power home lights, screens, and appliances during peak times or blackouts.
Renault’s vision is for the car to be an extension of the home when traveling. Generous cabin space is attributed to the car’s rear-wheel drive configuration, with two electric motors located on the rear axle and batteries beneath the floor. In combination with a retracting dashboard and pivoting front seats, “mind-off” autonomous driving mode is possible, with drivers able to relax and chat, read a book, or enjoy access to their personal digital world. Personalization technology allows automatic detection of passengers, customized seat settings, music streaming, and entertainment options.
For the demo version of the concept, the company singled out a number of partnerships with technology- and creative-industry leaders in an Open Innovation approach:
LG is involved in the development of the human-machine interfaces.
Ubisoft is providing onboard virtual reality experience for autonomous driving mode.
Devialet is developing a new user experience through advanced sound system.
Sanef is working on the way the car communicates with road network infrastructure.
TomTom is contributing its geo-positioning expertise.
IAV is providing autonomous driving engineering expertise.
An electric, autonomous, and connected demo vehicle, which realizes many of the Symbioz elements, is now being road tested. It supports the brand’s mid-term (before 2023) vision and previews technology customers may find in Renault production cars in the near future. This includes an evolved version of Multi-Sense technology, which adapts the ambiance and driving experience to customer mood in current Mégane, Scénic, Talisman, and Espace vehicles. The demo car will also showcase Easy Connect, new-generation mobility and connected services solutions, and will preview autonomous drive technology in future Renaults that will be progressively deployed as Easy Drive.
At the fall meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) in October 2017, General Motors displayed its Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS) concept, a flexible fuel-cell electric platform with autonomous capabilities. Benefits of the platform, aimed at solving the toughest transportation challenges created by natural disasters and complex logistics environments, include quiet and odor-free operation, off-road mobility, field configuration, instantaneous high torque, exportable power generation, water generation, and quick refueling times.
GM says that fuel-cell technology is a key piece of its zero-emission strategy because it offers a solution that can scale to larger vehicles with large payload requirements and operate over longer distances. “SURUS redefines fuel-cell electric technology for both highway and off-road environments,” said Charlie Freese, Executive Director of GM Global Fuel Cell Business.
The SURUS was designed as a foundation for a family of commercial vehicle solutions that leverages a single propulsion system and a common chassis. GM is evaluating multiple applications for SURUS including utility trucks, mobile and emergency backup power generation, flexible cargo delivery systems, commercial freight, and future military-specific configurations.
The platform leverages GM’s experience in fuel-cell technology, high-voltage batteries, and electric drive systems; autonomous driving; and vehicle manufacturing. Specific highlights are two advanced electric drive units, four-wheel steering, lithium-ion battery system, Gen 2 fuel-cell system, advanced propulsion power electronics, GM truck chassis components, and advanced suspension. The concept’s hydrogen storage system is capable of more than 400 mi (248 km) of range.
Designed to deliver highly mobile autonomous capability and agility in unpredictable terrain, the concept could be used in multiple-vehicle convoys in a leader-follower configuration could reduce the number of needed drivers. For potential military uses, the system’s low heat signature and quiet operation could reduce detection and risks.
The commercial platform draws on GM’s more than 50 years of fuel-cell technology R&D. Since April 2017, the Army has been testing a Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 on its U.S. bases to determine the viability of hydrogen-powered vehicles in military tactical environments for power generation, acoustic and thermal signatures, high wheel torque, extended operating range, and the potential byproduct water usages. Testing has shown the ZH2 to have a reduced acoustic non-detection distance by 90% compared to current military vehicle operation—meaning the vehicle can get 10 times closer before being detected. Potential fuel-cell advantages for stationary power generation over diesel generators were also observed, including a significant reduction in idle noise and fuel use. Testing will continue through spring 2018.
Last year, the U.S. Navy unveiled a GM fuel-cell-powered UUV (Unmanned Undersea Vehicle) for testing purposes that leverages GM fuel cell technology common with the Colorado ZH2.
Lexus premiered its automated-driving-capable LS+ Concept at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, the vehicle being the next step in the introduction of advanced technologies based on its Integrated Safety Management Concept. The company is developing automated driving technologies aimed for road-car application in the first half of the 2020s.
The LS+ Concept indicates the possible future design of its LS flagship sedan based on Lexus’ L-finesse design philosophy. In addition to an evolved spindle grille, with a large grille shutter that contributes to both improved cooling and enhanced aerodynamic performance, the concept gets partly laser-lit headlamps and rear combination lamps as well as electronic side mirrors.
Lexus intends to make automated driving, from entrance to exit ramp on motor-vehicle-only roadways, possible by using its Highway Teammate technologies, which, with an eye toward application in 2020. On motor-vehicle-only roadways, these technologies can enable automated merging, lane changes, and diverging, as well as keep a vehicle in its lane and maintain vehicle-to-vehicle distance—with driver approval.
The LS+ Concept can communicate with a data center to update its systems’ software, allowing new functions to be added. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) that learns from big data, including information on roads and surrounding areas, ensures a high level of automated driving, so the car can learn and grow along with its users.
Toyota’s Fine-Comfort Ride fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) concept from the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show envisions mobility in a low-carbon society with advanced utilization of hydrogen and renewable energy. The “new form of the premium saloon” employs what the company claims is a flexible layout unique to electric-powered vehicles.
The company says its next-generation FCV discharges no carbon dioxide or “substances of concern” during operation, and it offers “a generous cruising range,” an astounding 1000 km (620 mi) on the JC08 test cycle, with a hydrogen refueling time of about three minutes.
The concept’s unique flexible layout adopts in-wheel motors, positions the wheels at the vehicle corners, and uses a body underside cover for high stability and quietness suitable for a premium sedan. Vehicle dimensions are generous, at 4830 mm (190.2 in) long, 1950 mm (76.8 in) wide, and 1650 mm (65.0 in) tall on a wheelbase of 3450 mm (135.8 in), with seating for six occupants. The car’s diamond-shaped cabin narrows toward the rear, but has more generous dimensions in the front to the center of the vehicle, maximizing the space of the second-row seats—as well as aerodynamic performance.
In adopting the concept of “being wrapped in comfort,” the vehicle embodies future mobility that provides value beyond just movement of passengers. Toyota’s Agent function and touch display are arranged around the driver and passenger seats, which are designed for flexible adjustment and displays that allow driver and passengers to freely access information.
Among a number of electrified cars and motorcycles shown at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo lastly took the wraps off a concept model that was “developed to realize the joy of driving with a EV model.” Called the Honda Sports EV Concept, it is based on the same dedicated EV platform used for the Urban EV Concept shown at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, but with a lowered center of gravity for a sportier driving experience and a low and wide design that represents the “beautility” of a sports car.
The Frankfurt show’s Urban EV Concept is a city commuter with a spacious cabin inside a compact body—packaging made possible by the dedicated EV platform. Sales of a new model based on this Urban EV Concept are expected first in Europe and then in Japan in 2020.
The Sports EV Concept from Tokyo is equipped with a highly responsive electric power unit in a better handling but still compact body. Honda says that fully electric operation makes for powerful and smooth acceleration coupled with a serene quietness, and it provided an opportunity for a unique “one-ness between driver and car.”
We started development to make sports cars more approachable, said Project Leader Makoto Harada. “We designed it with the hope that it will become a close partner, and bring joy of ownership and fondness to the customer.” Communication between car and driver is enabled by a Honda Automated Network Assistant through artificial-intelligence technology.
In conjunction with the debut of the Sports EV Concept, Honda also showed its Power Manager concept, the single unit controlling and optimizing energy management among wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources, as well as EVs, cogeneration systems, and gasoline-powered generators. The Power Manager not only oversees power generated and consumed in the home, it also charges electric vehicles and uses power stored in their batteries to create a virtual power plant for a stable source of economical and greener home power.
The IMx concept vehicle explores the design direction of fully autonomous Nissan vehicles in the near future. At its core is an evolution of Nissan’s ProPILOT system, which has been developed further from that of the new production Leaf EV to offer fully autonomous driving that requires no human intervention.
The foundation of the IMx’s overall design was inspired by traditional Japanese culture, said Satoru Tai, Executive Design Director at Nissan. The main challenge for the design team was how to portray the unique characteristics of an electric vehicle in its exterior appearance. The front is highlighted by Nissan’s signature V-motion grille, which blends smoothly into the hood. The roofline flows smoothly from front to rear with no gap between hood and windshield. The front fenders start from the edges of the V-motion grille and overlap the side panels, resulting in lower drag, and expresses the lightweight character of electric vehicles. The glass roof provides a sense of openness to the cabin, and its darker tone gives the sense that the roofline is lower.
When the vehicle is in fully autonomous drive mode—in this case, when ProPILOT PD Mode is activated—the LED lights that run from the grille to the roof illuminate. These blue LED lights, placed in a block pattern that resembles a traditional kumiki (interlocking wood puzzle), start from the center of the grille and expand outward.
Inside, designers used technology to design the IMx’s cabin in a way that conveys openness while making passengers aware of the exterior environment. Four “floating” seats are mounted on a flat floor. In front of the driver’s seat, a panoramic display connects the instrument panel to the side doors and shows the view outside the vehicle. In PD Mode, the steering wheel stows into the dashboard, and the front and rear seats automatically recline to give the driver more free space and help occupants relax and enjoy their commute.