By on September 10, 2018

On Monday, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the Vision URBANETIC (styled in all caps by the manufacturer) — an all-electric, autonomous nightmare the company claims “answers the questions of future urban mobility.”

The modular design is as versatile as it is ugly. But it’s an important example of the direction automakers are collectively heading. Despite autonomous vehicles being oversold by manufacturers for years, we’re finally reaching a point where they feel comfortable enough to monetize them. Mercedes thinks the Urbanetic will prove revolutionary in redefining our roads. Still, it’s not the newest idea, despite Daimler calling it a “groundbreaking concept.”

Toyota’s e-Palette concept, unveiled at CES 2018, similarly uses a flat, electrified chassis allowing for endless customization. General Motors has the Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS), which is the same concept applied for autonomous military applications. The General also previewed the AUTOnomy concept in 2002, giving us an early glimpse at what other manufacturers would try in the years to come.

Regardless of who is doing it, the general idea is to put all the mechanical components into a flat plank that’s easy to mass produce and then stack whatever body type you want on top.

For Mercedes, being able to swap bodies is an important part of the recipe. Hypothetical Urbanetic customers will be able to switch the shell manually or via an automatic system — a process Daimler claims would take just a few minutes. Theoretically, you could use the vehicle as an autonomous cargo hauler and convert it into a 12-occupant people mover within the same day.

That leaves the Urbanetic operating primarily as part of a commercial fleet. Mercedes sees the model as a possible solution for local public transit and autonomous urban delivery. The company even noted the platform’s ability to operate 24 hours per day (minus when it’s charging) would be a boon to fleet managers contending with a lack of professional drivers.

Since it’s intended for city use, the vehicle includes large displays on the front and sides to telegraph its intentions to pedestrians. While this is a fine idea, we’d prefer it simply avoid contact with any and all objects in its path. However, that depends on the success of autonomous technology to work flawlessly when scaled up. The industry still hasn’t proven that self-driving vehicles are ready for a primetime slot, leaving models like the Vision Urbanetic to reside in a rather presumptive tomorrow.

Assuming the unit does eventually end up merging with real-world traffic, we sincerely hope Mercedes-Benz redesigns the shell intended for human passengers. It’s one of the homeliest designs we’ve had to endure over the last few years.

[Images: Mercedes-Benz]

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18 Comments on “Mercedes-Benz’s Hideous New Mobility Concept Isn’t All That New...”

  • avatar

    What’s going on here at TTAC? Is Monday now silly concept day?

  • avatar

    When a pedestrian wants to vent his day’s frustrations on a city vehicle, best of all a bus, he walks slowly across a street in front of it, slowing down even more just to make it obvious who’s in control of that corner. The driver may honk or lean out the window and yell, the pedestrian yells back, 5 seconds later everybody gets on with their life. It’s especially fun with a crowded bus, as you can sometimes get some of the passengers in on the fun.

    What’s it going to be like with autonomous vehicles? Everyone will know they can camp out for a long long time, stop and stare at the cameras, pretend to clear a pebble from your shoe, adjust your tie in the reflection …. and the bus ain’t gonna do jack squat. No yelling, no horn honking, maybe a recorded chime and announcement in a soothing-but-aggravating voice, which will just make it all the more fun.

    What are the powers-that-be going to do about it? Save all the recordings for later mass prosecution? Will there be a time limit for how slow you can pretend to be limping in front of buses?

    • 0 avatar

      “What’s it going to be like with autonomous vehicles?”

      It’ll probably just run your a$$ over.

    • 0 avatar

      People could do the same thing right now. What’s the driver going to do about it? Exactly the same thing an autonomous bus would do. But people don’t, because generally speaking they’re not raging jerks who exist only to torment others. The social pressure that stops them from doing it now will stop them regardless of who or what is piloting the vehicle.

      There might be a greater point for really crime-ridden locales – say, Brazil – where people have a genuine motive and have no f**ks to give. But just like I’m unconcerned about armed gangs stopping me in upstate NY, I’m not concerned about them stopping a putative SDV.

      There are a lot of reasons why general purpose self-driving vehicles definitely won’t work soon and may never work at all, but this (and the oft-cited trolley problem) isn’t one of them.

  • avatar

    Someone invent a time machine, I think those of us who enjoy driving are going to need it in a few decades.

    As far as the lead pic, I was kinda wondering if something could make the Toyota CH-R handsome by comparison, and there it is.

  • avatar

    Reminds me of science fiction movies where the monster e.g. The Blob is engulfing its prey. The grey part is the monster.

    Looks like Benz is now (along with Ford and GM) copying Aston Martin’s grille shape!

  • avatar

    All this time and I never knew Jabba The Hutt had wheels.

  • avatar

    Yeah, makes sense that it’s ugly. There’s no reason for the pods to look like what we think of as a beautiful car. They’re going to be utilitarian blobs. Pods. But we’ll be so much more “free” from having to do things ourselves! And safer too!! Ugh.

  • avatar

    it’s a sequel – Invasion of the Body Snatchers II

  • avatar

    Dear God, it really is a motoring appliance. It looks like a giant toaster on wheels.

  • avatar

    “Groundbreaking concept ” ? How about ” mirror breaking ” … Is this an early April fools joke ? The Pontiac Aztek looked absolutely stunning next to that monstrosity ..

  • avatar
    Mike G

    A bike helmet on wheels.
    I daresay the final product will look much more utilitarian than this. The manufacturing cost of that very complex body and all those custom pieces of glass would be hideous.

  • avatar

    “the general idea is to put all the mechanical components into a flat plank that’s easy to mass produce and then stack whatever body type you want on top”

    So, basically a rolling chassis? Like how cars and trucks used to be built?

    The automatic body-shell swapping seems like a sort of neat idea on paper, but anyone who has worked with large modular parts knows they need all kinds of fiddling to fit properly. Maybe they’re going to use shipping containers.

  • avatar

    I would say, “Kill it with fire!”, but it’ll probably spontaneously combust before that.

  • avatar

    Has fritz Lang returned from the dead to design ME-BE’s?

  • avatar

    “The industry still hasn’t proven that self-driving vehicles are ready for a primetime slot, leaving models like the Vision Urbanetic to reside in a rather presumptive tomorrow.”

    Sorta like the automobile industry in 1910.

  • avatar

    Old city buses get exported to places like Mexico and Guatemala, where they get used for additional decades.
    These electric concept vehicles will have an unobtainable computer module of some sort go on the fritz, making the whole thing unusable.
    Third world countries will never get our hand-me-downs. They’ll have to make do with new, underpriced Chinese buses.

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