Inside the Merc S-class of the future: F015 autonomous concept

23 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Inside the Merc S-class of the future: F015 autonomous concept.

ALAMEDA—The Mercedes-Benz F 015 looks so out-of-this-world amazing, even people who can’t stand the idea of a self-driving car might still be willing to ride in it. A rather curious Jaguar XE prototype has just been snapped in the midst of testing and according to some reports, it could be a test mule for either an all-electric or plug-in hybrid variant of the British sedan.The F015 Luxury in Motion concept is Mercedes-Benz’s vision for an autonomous car at the luxury end of the market, an S-class of the future that will have chauffeurs feeling nervous about long-term employment prospects.LOS ANGELES, March 18, 2015 — Calling it a “strategic hybrid initiative,” Mercedes-Benz today blasted away from the luxury sedan, CUV and SUV pack by promising to deliver “a total of ten plug-in hybrid models” (that’s a new model launch every four months!) by 2017.If you’re a fan of plug-in hybrid vehicles, you might be interested to learn that Mercedes-Benz has recently confirmed that the company will be aiming to release 10 new plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2017.

It is a concept car in the truest sense and a radical design that embraces and exploits new technology in its powertrain, construction and, most importantly, the interior design and layout to rethink how we’ll use a car when we’re not concerning ourselves with driving it. This push won’t be accompanied by a significant push towards all-electric vehicles, though, based on comments from company reps — not for the next couple of years anyways.

Indeed, as Mercedes boss Dieter Zetsche himself said at the F015’s unveiling earlier this year: “Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society. This includes the 2016 C350e and the S550e, although Mercedes has also promised that more vehicles from the company’s C-Class range, which includes the GLE-Class SUV, will get the hybrid treatment as well. While, some of the current hybrid models from Mercedes’ stable already carries the aforementioned ‘e’ suffix, such as the C350e. “Plug-in hybrids are a key technology on the road to the local emission-free future of the automobile.

The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.” To give an idea of its size, the F015 is slightly shorter than a long-wheelbase S-Class, but is a fair bit wider and also a touch taller. It seems Mercedes-Benz is betting on the plug-in hybrid as the new go-to technology consumers will buy just like GM took a big gamble on its Chevy Volt and its luxury twin, the 2015 Cadillac ELR. Based on the new naming system of Mercedes, the individual powertrain designations of its vehicles will be indicated by a small letter following the model name.

There are suggestions that such an engine is the 2.0-litre diesel from Jaguar Land Rover’s new Ingenium range of engines delivering 163 hp and mated to a manual transmission. It offers our customers the best of both worlds; in the city they can drive in all-electric mode, while on long journeys they benefit from the combustion engine’s range. Interestingly, this automotive journalist and green car road test reviewer was driving Cadillac’s most luxurious plug-in hybrid this week, the stunning 2015 ELR – and was incredibly impressed with this modern coupe’s exterior, interior, performance and electric charging and range capabilities (35+ miles for each full electric charge!). In addition, hybridization makes the combustion engine more efficient and brings with it a special type of dynamic performance – making driving an absolute pleasure.” The company has, reportedly, lowered the total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of its European fleet by more than 40% over the last few years — not a bad start, and a trend that will continue, conspidering the company’s new goals.

Whatever the case may be, it is obvious that a key focus of Jaguar for the XE will be offering fuel efficient models to compete with the German trio of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. The F015 can be such a shape as there is no conventional engine in the bonnet, so the overhangs are ultra-short and the front and rear windscreens upright, allowing the bulk of the car’s footprint to be taken up with cabin space thanks to the 3610mm-long wheelbase, which is some 445mm longer than that of an S-class LWB.

So, it isn’t surprising to this green car expert that Daimler is going all out with plug-in hybrid technology rather than all-electric vehicles (EVs) or some other illogical “sustainable” energy platform such as hydrogen or fuel cells. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter. Although, Mercedes’ didn’t mentioned every model that will be getting the plug-in treatment, but promised a green version of its GLE-Class SUV, its first ever hybrid crossover vehicle.

It’s only really recognisable as a Mercedes-Benz from the outside by the shape of the front grille and the three-pointed star in the middle of it, again living up to its out-there concept car brief. Also, the company intends to bring a production model of the ‘Concept V ision E’ concept, a V-Class based van is based, that made its first public appearance at the Geneva Motor Show.

Drivers want to be able to plug in and get the benefits of electric motors (zero emissions, almost zero fuel costs and non-violent energy), but they also need to know they can fuel up at any gas station and go, go, go. Still, it takes self-driving cars beyond Google’s LiDAR-studded experiments, and reconsiders how the most cutting-edge auto tech could change people’s lives. First, MB launched its S 500 plug-in hybrid full-sized sedan that accelerates from 0-100 mph in just 5.2 seconds with an electric range of up to 33 km (20.5 miles). However in the case of plug-in hybrids, the electric motor will be the main driver of the car with the gasoline engine helping to charge it when it begins to run low. So this concept, as the S-Class of tomorrow, aims to show just what can be possible at the top end of a market of autonomous cars, where that time you get back from not driving really is treated as a luxury.

This month, the C 350 e “saloon” and “estate” models are now in European dealerships and goes up to 31 km or 19.3 miles on electric power with a whopping 270 hp). Enter the cabin for the first time and you’re struck by just how Mercedes has managed to so radically change something that’s usually so familiar, in terms of layout, materials and the absence of the usual ‘hard points’.

The four-door F015 does without conventional B-pillars, so access to the luxurious cabin is via a pair conventional front and a pair of rear-hinged doors. The seats swivel by 30deg when you open the doors to allow easy access, and can be put in two seating arrangements, either in two rows of two, or all facing one another with the front pair of seats swivelled around. Google’s experimental self-driving cars, with their whirling roof-mounted LiDARS, have turned heads on San Francisco Bay Area roads for several years. Daimler definitely has the right idea to take its new “e” plug-in hybrid motor technologies and put them into its lineup of world-class luxury vehicles – and by 2017 no less! In 2014, the company unveiled a more radical, bug-shaped design that had no steering wheel or brakes, and embodied a utopian vision of giving mobility back to blind men and senior citizens.

Living alongside these luxurious materials are six touchscreens, one mounted at the front as a dashboard that can be controlled by gesture controls, another on the back wall, and then four more mounted into the doors. As megacities rise, getting around a denser urban environment will take longer and be more difficult. “Private space and time will become luxury commodities,“ Groeneveld predicted. Indeed, the car feels trustworthy enough for you not to have to focus on what it is doing, and you can concentrate on that lost art of conversation with your fellow passengers.

The company designed it with an unusually long wheelbase of 3.6 meters (about 11.8 feet) to allow for plenty of cabin room, as well as a more comfortable ride. It’s also fascinating how the concept of speed is taken out of the equation when you’re not behind the wheel and are getting on with something else; you’ve got the time back from the fact you’re being driven, so you don’t bat much of an eyelid at a traffic jam as you’ve got an environment and the tools to use the time productively.

The four captain’s chairs have built-in seat belts and soft leather cushioning. (Although the white leather’s impracticality baffles me, as this car is definitely not self-cleaning.) The front seats turn to face the passengers. It’s worth noting that in spite of pushing the autonomous technology, Mercedes says it will never remove the ability for a driver to drive the car themselves, and it still wants to make all its future cars good to drive.

When in its autonomous mode, it can do all manner of clever stuff, perhaps most intriguingly stopping when it sees pedestrians wanting to cross the road, then checking if it is safe for them to do so before projecting a zebra crossing onto the road and saying “please go ahead” through some external speakers. Eye movements weren’t working when we demoed the car, but the gesture control worked pretty well: You have to learn where to hold your hand so the dashboard can sense it. The company set up a demo where Roomba-like rolling robots took on these different roles and performed activities such as parking, playing a lawn game, and crossing an intersection while studiously avoiding collisions with each other. This thing works already; it can safely and legally drive itself on public roads in places like California, one of four US states which has legislation to allow real-world trials of such cars. It features artificial intelligence to think how a human would think in certain unexpected situations, something that’s crucial if trust in autonomous cars is to develop.

Two electric motors with a combined 268bhp and 294lb ft drive the rear wheels, and a 0-100kph time of 6.7sec is quoted alongside a 124mph/200kph top speed.

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