Thanks to Japan’s high-tech culture and gadget-obsessed consumers, the annual Tokyo Motor Show always plays host to a fairly high number of outlandish, futuristic concept vehicles that will never make it into production. From concept four-wheeled passenger cars to scooters, mobility aids, advanced robotics and even self-balancing unicycles, you’ll see it all in Tokyo.
A fully-electric self-driving autonomous minivan-cum-limousine concept? That’s a new one on us.
Yet visit the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, taking place this week, and you’ll see one. Called the Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo Concept, it’s a fully-autonomous vehicle for the new millennium. Leveraging the always-connected ideology of Generation Z, it features a host of technology that enables it to operate as both a means of getting from A to B but also as a mobile living space and even (dare we say it) a party bus.
Before we go any further however, perhaps it’s worthwhile clearing something up about the term ‘concept car’. While some automakers use the term to showcase designs for vehicles or technologies which will enter production in one form or another in the short to midterm, others treat it as a free license to dream up a fantastical vehicle with little or no hope of making it into production.
Some cars — like the Chevrolet Bolt EV which GM unveiled back in January at the Detroit Auto Show — fall firmly into the first category. Mercedes-Benz’s Vision Tokyo Concept falls squarely into the second.
And if we’re honest, we’re quite glad of that fact.
Carrying over design influences from the F 015 autonomous electric saloon we saw earlier this year in Geneva, the Vision Tokyo Concept features large 26-inch wheels which, like the side skirts, are illuminated an electric blue. Up front, narrow LED headlights placed at an angle on the edge of the hood frame a massive grille, complete with a large Mercedes-Benz badge which is of course, also bathed in an electric blue glow.
Going one better than the massive one-piece windscreen which extends from the base of the hood all the way to the B-pillar on the Tesla Model X, the Vision Tokyo concept feature what Mercedes-Benz is calling a “continuous stretch of glass panelling similar to the glazed cockpit of a powerboat.”
At the side however, that panelling is opaque and body-colored, allowing those inside to see out but not the other way around.
Access to the vehicle is made via a massive single gullwing door located on the left side of the vehicle, a design feature which the German automaker is keen to note makes it ideal for the right-hand drive traffic in and around the Japanese megacity. Presumably for countries where traffic passes on the opposite side of the road, the design would be reversed.
Interestingly, the Vision Tokyo Concept can be driven as a regular vehicle, with a retractable set of driver controls located in the front of the vehicle ahead of the curved bench seat where up to five passengers can be easily accommodated. Rather than offset the controls to one side, the driver sits centrally, with a holographic projected dashboard and wrap around windscreen giving unprecedented visibility and access to all the pertinent information about the vehicle and the chosen route.
But it’s the inside of the passenger area which perhaps makes this Gen X’er feel old. As well as the C-shaped bench seat (again bathed in a soft blue lighting), the underside of the massive gullwing door doubles up as a screen, providing both entertainment and information about the trip in real-time.
Meanwhile, a holographic display column in front of the passengers allows them to interact with a plethora of different social media platforms, devices, and of course entertainment options. Even the rear window — embedded with LED lights — can be programmed to pulse in time with the music in the vehicle’s own private club environment.
With so much stimulation inside the vehicle, it makes this author wonder why they even bothered with the windows. Looking out the window and enjoying the scenery is, it seems, a pastime long forgotten.
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