Is this the future of cars? I don’t know, but Mercedes certainly think it is. The Vision AVTR was revealed on stage at CES today and is one of those cars that’s both brilliant and frustrating at the same time.
Seeing concept cars does give you a sense of excitement of what crazy possibilities there are for innovation in the transport industry. On the flip side, concept cars are often a massive distraction to the development of vehicles that you or I could actually buy and drive on the road.
The AVTR features the space-age interior that has absolutely zero chance of making it into production, but its perhaps some of the exterior design that opens your mind.
The car is slick, like a squeezed raindrop sliding through the air and looks fast sitting still. The car features crazy lambo doors made of glass and wheels that see an illuminated rim integrate with the tyre.
While the wheel makes absolutely no sense in reality (nor does the zero clearance between tyre and guard), the illumination ideas are something I’d like to see explored. The most noteworthy was the rear wheels turned red when the driver hit the brake pedal. If you’re beside a car, this is actually valuable information, particularly merging situations.
Then there’s the 4-way steering. As the car moved around the stage, it was able to traverse a really tight turn thanks to both the front and rear wheels turning to reduce the turning circle.
4-wheel steering is definitely not new, but I can’t think of a production car that does it, certainly not to this degree. The upcoming Rivian R1T would be the best example.
Then thanks to some crazy collaboration with the guys from Avatar, the car has scales because, well they could. The designers wanted to create something that was closer to human and apparently that translates to moving scales on the rear end. To me, these look like an engineer’s nightmare, creating drag and disrupting the air over the rear, pretty much exactly the opposite thing you want.
To control the car, you don’t use a steering wheel, instead, Mercedes sees the car being controlled with your hand, one hand, but giving it some kind of massage. Weird that we’re needing to drive at all, it’s clear these things will be driving themselves.
The car’s interior is right out of a space ship, the standard console winds its way up to join the dash which is all one single, giant display. Unfortunately, there’s no interface shown off, instead just a single image. While it looks impressive for a demo on stage, developing a UI for that display surface won’t be easy.
When cars can drive themselves, you’ll want a large display to watch movies while the car drives you to your destination. Almost all the long-form content we have is structured in a 16:9 aspect ratio, something that’d look particularly weird on a display like this.
This car reinforces my frustration with concept cars. On average, it takes around 4 years to design, develop, test and produce a new car. That means concepts that imagine how cars could be in 30 years from now is a massive distraction and waste of time.
I’d much rather see companies focus on practical cars, ones that they know have at least some chance of passing a crash test and making it to our driveways.
There’s a lot happening in transport right now, with the transition from internal combustion powertrains to all-electric, as well as the battle for autonomous driving. I really don’t see how these company’s, even as big as Mercedes, have the resources to waste on such endeavours.