By: IOL Motoring Staff
Tokyo Motor Show - Mercedes-Benz is not alone in focusing on a future in which cars will drive themselves.
However, rather than previewing the commuter transport of the future, its recent concepts depict what was known in Karl Benz' day as the 'carriage trade' - autonomous cars for people who didn't drive themselves then and don't now.
And nowhere is this more appropriate than in technology-obsessed Japan, so for the Tokyo Motor Show Stuttgart has risen to the challenge with the Vision Tokyo concept - not so much a vehicle as a spatial experience.
It follows in the tyre-tracks of the F 015 Luxury in Motion autonomous luxury sedan, but with more emphasis on versatility.
At 4803mm long, 2100mm wide and 1600mm high, it's about the same size as the new V-Class MPV, and it is also basically a single-box MPV shape, but not at all boxy thanks to a sweeping bonnet windshield and roof line that runs in a single curve from the top of the grille to the roof spoiler.
It's aimed at Generation Z, people born since 1995 who have grown up with digital media; it's not just transport, says Mercedes, it's a mobile digital companion. Advanced algorithms allow it to evolve continuously; with each journey it becomes more familiar with its occupants and their preferences.
Instead of a conventional windshield the Vision Tokyo has a continuous stretch of glass panelling, rather like the glazed cockpit of a powerboat - but from where the A Pillar would be in a conventional design through to the tailgate, the windows are screen-printed in the same metallic aluminium colour as the body, allowing light in and vision out.
Blue highlights, notably on the 26 inch rims and side skirts, point up the concept's emissions-free plug-in fuel-cell electric drive, and a fin on the roof houses the sensors and 360-degree camera necessary for the Vision Tokyo to drive itself.
The space across the front of the car can display different lighting functions. If music is playing inside it can, for example, visualise a sound pattern, like a sound analyser. The rear window is set into a surrounding ring of red LEDs, which function either as indicators or part of the visual display.
Up to five occupants get in through an upwards-opening door on the left (Japan is a right-hand drive country, remember) and sit on a U-shaped couch; since there's no 'front' or 'back', conventional seating is redundant.
When you need to drive the Vision Tokyo manually, a forward-facing seat folds down from the centre of the couch and the steering wheel moves from standby into the driving position.
There are large wraparound display screens behind the seats, but apps, maps and displays are presented as three-dimensional holograms in the open space in the middle of the cabin.
The concept's fuel-cell plug-in hybrid electric drive is based on that of the F 015, with a high charge-density battery that can be charged by induction and carbon-fibre hydrogen pressure tanks, giving it a range of about 190km on battery power and 790km on hydrogen.