Austin, Texas - This is Eve, a radical concept from electric-car startup Nio that’s been designed from the inside out to be not only autonomous, but also to be an intelligent companion, defined by its software rather than by its engineering.
But perhaps the most radical thing about this concept is Nio’s stated intention to have road-going versions in showrooms in the United States by 2020.
At the launch presentation in Austin’s Coppertank Event Centre, CEO Padmasree Warrior said Nio had been granted an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit by the California department of motor vehicles in October 2016 and would soon begin testing on public roads under the Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program guidelines.
Mind you, Nio has form in the electric-car business; formerly known as NextEV, it’s responsible for the 1000kW, four-motor all-wheel drive EP9 experimental electric supercar, which lapped the Nurburgring in a record 7m05.12s in October 2016, making it officially the world’s fastest electric vehicle.
It also holds the electric vehicle lap record at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France at 1m52.78s, and at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, at 2m11.30s, which is also the lap record for a street-legal car of any kind. But more importantly, on the same day it also posted a lap time at Austin of 2m40.33 - without a driver!
Which brings us to Eve, which is built around the concept of Nomi, an artificial intelligence system with an intuitive human interface, providing verbal and visual connections inside the car and with the outside world, using head up projection on the inside of the car’s windows rather than on display screens.
Nomi is designed to learn from every journey, whether it be your daily commute, the school run, a night out or a road trip across the country, so that it knows where you go and what you like - much as Google can predict with some accuracy what you like to search on the internet.
The car has no A or B pillars; instead you get in through a wide forward-sliding door on the passenger side. It’s quite a big vehicle - probably about the same dimensions as a mid-sized MPV - and has seven fixed seats.
At the back there’s a two-seater bench with a folding table, alongside a third, fully-reclining seat, while the middle row has a seat facing the table and a folding jump seat.
The two front seats - accessed by a centre aisle, rather like an old VW Kombi - are all about the view - whether of the real world outside the pillarless windscreen or the virtual world projected on it. There’s no dashboard; all the instrumentation is projected on the head up display and all the infotainment controls are voice-activated.