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GM unveils next-gen EN-V city runabout

Chevy badges for revised EN-V as GM prepares for real-world urban mobility trials

Holden logo17 Oct 2011

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

DEVELOPMENT of the second generation of General Motors’ futuristic two-wheeled EN-V electric city runabout concept is well underway – and it has an Australian connection.

The first-generation concept that made its world debut at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo was unveiled in three versions, one of which – the nautically-inspired Xiao that resembled a deep-sea diving suit – was crafted by Holden’s team at Port Melbourne.

However the revised EN-V – which stands for Electric Networked-Vehicle – most closely resembles the Miao version styled by GM’s California-based Advanced Design Studio and wears Chevrolet badges.

Chevrolet vice-president for global marketing and strategy Chris Perry said the concept bears the 100 year-old bow-tie brand as a reference to Chevrolet’s history of “making advanced technology that improves customers’ lives accessible and affordable”.

13 center imageFrom top: GM Holden's EN-V Xiao, GM California's EN-V Miao, GM Europe's EN-V Jiao.

GM aims to use the updated concept for “pilot demonstration programs in megacities around the world” to determine its practicality in real-world scenarios.

Originally conceived as a way of addressing issues of traffic congestion, parking, safety and energy consumption that affect the modern city, EN-V aims to preserve the sense of freedom associated with personal mobility.

Refinements to the updated EN-V include the addition of climate control, better adaptability to weather and road conditions, and some personal storage capacity.

Carry-over technology includes its battery-powered, Segway-based electric drivetrain, network connectivity, and the ability to avoid collisions and drive autonomously.

EN-V’s autonomous driving capability comes from a combination of technologies including satellite navigation, vehicle-to-vehicle communication and an array of proximity sensors.

Communicating with other vehicles and traffic infrastructure enables the EN-V to find parking spaces, charging points and select the least congested route to the programmed destination – a technology that could reduce congestion by enabling vehicles to work together in ensuring a constant traffic flow.

Naturally, inter-vehicle communication coupled with the proximity sensing equipment also has the potential to improve safety by eliminating human error and enabling vehicles to pre-empt and avoid – or at least mitigate – a collision, and even detect the presence of emergency vehicles to ensure they get a clear route.

Drivers, freed from having to concentrate on driving, can take advantage of built-in wireless networking to conduct business or social communications while travelling.

The technology could enable people who do not usually drive – or are unlicensed – to benefit from personal transport.

Able to travel up to 40 kilometres on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery pack – which can be replenished using a conventional household power outlet – GM claims the EN-V’s range is “acceptable” for most urban journeys.

GM director of advanced technology vehicle concepts Chris Borroni-Bird said the EN-V “provides an ideal solution for petroleum- and emission-free urban transportation that is free from congestion and crashes”.

“This technology platform of electric propulsion, sensors, wireless communications and GPS-based navigation is likely to migrate from the EN-V concept to other automobiles and could lead the way to safer, cleaner vehicles in the future,” he said.

GM China announced in April that it would develop a next-generation EN-V to take part in real-world testing on public roads in China, as part of a memorandum of understanding it signed that month with the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Investment and Development Co Ltd (SSTEC).

Mr Borroni-Bird added that Chevrolet is also considering other countries for potential pilot programs, including GM’s US home turf.

EN-V is just one of several ideas being worked on by various vehicle manufacturers for a future in which more than 60 per cent of the world’s population – expected to have swelled to 8 billion people by 2030 – reside in urban environments.

GM’s European arm is also working on an electric commuter concept – admittedly less radical and lacking the autonomous driving aspect – with the Opel Rak-e concept unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show last month.

Opel is developing a business case for the electric two-seater to be put into production and go on sale for less than $14,000.

Audi also unveiled its conceptually similar Urban Concept at Frankfurt, while Volkswagen showed its single-seat Nils city car, described as a “realistic proposition” for commuting in the year 2030.

Renault is already taking orders for its tandem-seated electric Twizy city runabout and alliance partner Nissan is also working on one – thought to be based on its quirky 2009 Land Glider concept car that leans into corners like a four-wheeled motorcycle.

Several manufacturers – including GM, Ford and Audi – are working on vehicle-to-vehicle communications that will enable greater safety and congestion avoidance to become reality, and BMW recently showcased a self-driving 5 Series.

Volvo has been working on vehicle ‘platooning’ – which involves cars forming a ‘road train’ behind a lead vehicle and taking over the controls, leaving the driver to rest or carry out other tasks.

Mr Perry described the EN-V as “a possible solution for global customers living in markets where alternative transportation solutions are needed”.

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