For years, automakers have rhapsodized about how our cars would become mobile offices and living spaces. And then they botched even the simple stuff, like letting you dial up the Backstreet Boys from your iPod on the car’s sound system. But fear not. The Mercedes-Benz F 015 will be the rolling roost of your dreams. You’ll just have to wait at least until 2030, when Mercedes thinks this kind of hydrogen-powered, fully autonomous vehicle will become viable.
Bigger than an S-Class, the Benz concept looks like a Clockwork Orange hipster lounge, with its walnut-veneered floor and wall-wrapping touch and gesture displays. Mercedes sees it as a retreat that will maximize privacy or productivity in the hectic urban zones of the future. The mod theme continues with two front white-leather-clad lounge seats that swivel rearward (after all, the “driver” usually won’t need to attend to the road). The steering wheel telescopes into the dash during autonomous mode. And any passenger can take charge of vehicle functions, such as speed and which of the 360-degree views to project inside the car.
The concept car makes clever use of optical technologies to communicate with cars and pedestrians. A forward-looking laser, for example, can beam messages onto the pavement, including a whimsical image of a zebra crossing or the words “please go ahead.” You get into the car using a smartphone app, which opens enormous clamshell-style portals for easy access to the lounge space inside. A hydrogen-fueled F (for “fuel”) cell plug-in hybrid drive system could deliver a 1,100-kilometer driving range, Mercedes says, including 200 km on battery power.
If you care to trust Mercedes’s crystal ball, by 2030 hydrogen cars will be a common sight. Unless gasoline still costs $2 a gallon.