I wouldn’t blame you for taking one look at pictures of GM’s family of EN-V concept cars and dismissing them out of hand.
On first acquaintance they must look odd: strangely upright and wantonly weird. And when you read that, underneath it all, they’re not much more than glorified Segway scooters – well, let’s just say I’m looking forward to those first few blog comments.
And yet I’m going to stick my neck out anyway. Having seen the EN-V triplets first hand this week in Shanghai, I’ll admit to being seriously taken with them. Not as enthusiast machinery, or even the most original conceptions there has ever been, granted - but as pragmatic, well thought out answers to an important and pressing question: how does the car adapt to suit the 21st century cityscape?
These aren’t your average show cars, after all. Today I sat and watched as one of them drove around a stage entirely on its own, balancing on two wheels, and deftly juggling its mass forwards and backwards all the while as it stopped, started, cornered and span in perfect 360 degree pirouettes.
Watching this car move is fascinating. When it parks, the EN-V slowly shifts its body forwards and comes to rest on a couple of small castor wheels underneath the front edge of that chassis. When parked, it makes use of its disc brakes, but only so that it doesn’t roll away: braking happens entirely via energy regeneration the rest of the time. And when the time comes to move off again, the driver climbs in, belts up, and the body moves backwards as the car ‘rocks up’ and adopts its perfect one-axle balance. You keep waiting, willing this car fall over and vindicate your conventional expectations. And yet it never does.
And ownership of this car has some intriguing possibilities. It’s small enough to store, even use indoors. Small enough to fit on a train; light enough to be carried in a lift. Given the right conditions, it could be driven from your breakfast table right up to your office desk. You don’t ride a motorbike indoors, I know – but not many motorbikes manage without exhaust pipes.
There are so many reasons to be sceptical about the EN-V. The world may never be ready for a car designed to do without crumple zones and pedestrian protection measures. What would happen to one caught in a strong wind, you wonder. And you wouldn’t want to pull up next to one at traffic lights that was about to have an electronic meltdown. Or, god forbid, become ‘self-aware’.
And yet I’m sure that GM’s right: before too long, the world’s going to be ready for a car like this. Maybe not one that only does 25mph, or 25 miles on a charge – or that looks like it’s just driven off the set of The X-Files. But something like it.