Next week the Shanghai World Expo closes. It’s been open for six months and a staggering 70 million people will have walked through the gates to look into the tens of pavilions in which countries showcase their culture, products, people and innovations.
It’s not just nation states getting in on the act. As one of the big players in China, General Motors had its own pavilion. And it decided to showcase its vision of urban ‘motoring’ in 2030. A vision where 60 per cent of the world’s population live in cities and have access to 80 per cent of the wealth. It’s going to get even more crowded...
Their answer is a family of EN-V concept cars, which we first took a good look at in March. Jointly developed with Segway, they are electric two seaters designed to convey you around town safely and in comfort. Safely because they employ a variety of sensors that make it impossible to crash into anything. In comfort because with an electric motor underneath you, all of the space above is given over to passenger room.
What’s more they can be drive themselves while you surf the net etc etc. They park themselves too, although as they take up only a third of the tarmac space of a normal car that isn’t too tricky.
Now that the Expo’s nearing the end of its run though GM felt confident enough to give a few hacks a go at driving an EN-V, which is what I found myself doing in a deserted car park outside of Shanghai yesterday.
To really get how the EN-V works, though, it’s best to see the start-up procedure from the outside. It’s built on a ‘skateboard’ and is designed to balance perfectly on its single axle. At rest it slides forward by 25cms to rest on its chin, but when you start it up it slides back and sits up proudly on its two wheels.
Making it move is remarkably straightforward. You grab the video games-style controller push a button to go forward and pull it back to brake. Getting it going is a little unnerving at first but there’s little sense that you’re just see-sawing over two wheels, as it feels remarkably stable. It’s not fast, as 25mph is the top whack, but it feels fast enough to keep up with most inner-city traffic.
Turning is the best bit though. Just the slightest of hand movements can send it veering left or right. And if you really yank on the lock it will do a full 360-degree spin, virtually inside its own length.
Admittedly there are lots of problems with this car. For a start, it’s fun but hardly the visceral experience any car nut is going to warm to. The man behind it, GM’s Chris Borroni-Bird, also admits that he doesn’t really know how customers and legislators are going to take to a self-driving two-seater.
But GM’s long-range thinking is impressive. The need to deal with ever-increasingly congested cities is one that needs addressing, and clearly car companies have a big role to play in this.
Personally, I could be happy commuting in an E-NV (they look pretty cool as well). But I think that having a ‘proper’ car for weekends is always going to be needed in my life, though.