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Chevy and Google: Two Votes for Self-Driving City Cars

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concept vehicles
When Chevrolet isn’t busy recalling cars it seriously screwed up, it’s actually doing some interesting things. I’ve seen every iteration of the EN-V (“Electric Networked Vehicle”) urban mobility car, and even driven the little pod (whose whole front is a door) once. But now it’s getting really cool—and increasingly ready for the market. And it's like no car you've ever seen: In an impressive display of urban maneuverability, EN-V 2.0 can turn in its own width.

The EN-V 2.0 in an idealized urban setting. (General Motors graphic)Keep in mind that GM has said it hopes to actually produce a version of this city car by 2020. The goal is to sell them for around $10,000. The target market is China, where GM sells more Buicks than it does in the U.S. The company has 58,000 employees in China, and sold 3.2 million cars there last year.  

The EN-V 2.0, a descendant of the bare-bones car revealed in 2009 (as the P.U.M.A.). Originally a gyroscopically balanced two wheeler, developed with Segway, it now sits on four wheels. The car is being showcased for two weeks at Tianjin Eco-City (a collaboration with Singapore), which is partially built and will not coincidentally also be ready for prime time in 2020. The city will be home to 350,000, and offer relief from the usual Chinese urban menu—some of the world’s worst air pollution.

Tianjin's promise is renewable energy, clean water, and eco-friendly living spaces. It’s hard to get details, since most of the press releases on the city’s site are about visits from dignitaries.

The EN-V 2.0 in the real world, the one with pollution and traffic jams. (General Motors photo)What I like here is that GM’s vision of the ultimate electric urban transportation pod is evolving alongside that of Google. The search-engine guys recently showed an ultra-cute “look-ma-no-hands” concept car, to be built with help from Detroit-area Roush Industries. The Google car does away with the steering wheel, the accelerator, brakes and just about everything that involves “driving” a car. You program a destination, and—guided by radar, cameras and sensors—off you go. The top speed is 25 mph, and range about 100 miles.

Zoom, zoom, with or without a driver. (General Motors photo)GM’s EN-V 2.0 is networked, as the name implies. It’s critical that self-driving cars communicate with other vehicles on the road, and that’s built in here with GPS and sensors. The car is being designed to run by itself, though that’s not yet operational—the videos show pilots.

Google's cute-as-a-button self-driving car, to be built in a limited edition of 100 prototypes, has no steering wheel, accelerator or brakes. (Google photo)Google and GM envision tiny cars with limited range, which makes sense. The EN-V 2.0 can go about 25 miles on a charge, and four of them can fit in a typical parking space.

It’s not clear how serious GM is about building the EN-V, in 2020 or ever. When the Google car was announced, the company’s global product head, Mark Reuss said, “I don’t think you’re going to see an autonomous vehicle take over a city anytime soon.” But he also said that Google could become a “very serious competitive threat” in a market that doesn’t even exist right now.

Take a look at the EN-V 2.0 being unveiled, and dig the crazy video of it on the road:

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