Making the motor vehicle seem sensible

A few months ago, I was wandering around The Science Museum in London, and I encountered this startling vision of the future –

It’s the Toyota ‘i-Unit’.

According to Toyota

The “i-unit” is a form of “personal mobility” that seeks to attain a greater balance of meeting individuals’ wishes to enjoy freedom of movement, harmony with society, and harmony with the Earth’s natural environment.

A form of “personal mobility”, you say?


I’m not sure the above is an accurate description of what the ‘i-unit’ is seeking to attain. Toyota’s real purpose is quite obviously to create a car for extraordinarily lazy people – a car you don’t have to get out of when you want to have conversations, move around other people, eat food, and so on – in other words, be a ‘pedestrian.’ You can keep your sweaty backside where it belongs during every stage of human interaction.

Variable Positioning – The i-unit has a compact size enabling the passenger to move among other people in an upright position in low speed mode, and a low center of gravity that ensures stable handling when the vehicles reclines in high speed mode.

And from wikipedia

The goal of Toyota is to provide a personal mobility, which can be used on roads but also does not hinder interaction with pedestrians. For this the i-unit has two possible setups. First, there is an upright low speed setup, where the rider has a higher position and can have conversations face-to-face with pedestrians and can move among people. This upright position can be transformed while driving to a low position, where the rider sits much lower and more reclined. This high speed setup has a much lower center of gravity and is for driving at higher speeds.

In other words, it’s a very expensive, shape-shifting version of this –

I was reminded of my encounter with Toyota’s alien-mobility-scooter thing by the news today that General Motors are showing their vision of urban mobility.

It is, I am unsurprised to announce, just as absurd as Toyota’s vision’.

I mean, WTF?

The selling-point of this ‘vehicle’ again seems to be laziness, and of an even more extreme kind –

although it is possible, and indeed great fun, to drive the EN-V manually, it is really designed to drive by itself….  Because it is autonomous, drivers could read, have teleconferences or sleep while being driven around in them… Send it out in the morning to take the children to school, have it pick up a friend on its way back for a morning coffee. Travel in it to the local pool and make it pick up the shopping while you go for a swim….

I expect it wipes your bottom for you too.

Vehicles like this will, of course, never be the solution to our urban transport problems, because there’s already a solution, one that has been around for well over a hundred years – it’s a ‘vehicle’ that allows face-to-face interaction, can travel at speeds of up to 20 mph, is compact, energy-efficient, allows your children to go to school independently, can negotiate with pedestrians, and is a fraction of the cost of these stupendously over-engineered and technology-crammed devices.

The bicycle.

The car industry know this of course – they’re not that stupid – yet they keep on attempting to foist these bizarre ‘solutions’ on us. It’s like trying to market a £100 digital ‘i-Cup’ as the solution to all our drinking problems.

It would be nice to think that these ‘i-Units’ and ‘EN-Vs’ are an enormous practical joke at our expense, and that the boardrooms at these companies are full of ribald chuckling and table-slapping as the executives marvel at how gullible we all are.

But unfortunately the more obvious and cynical explanation is that these monstrosities are so deliberately absurd that another absurd urban transport mode – the motor vehicle – suddenly seems quite sensible by comparison.

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10 Responses to Making the motor vehicle seem sensible

  1. “…Because it is autonomous, drivers could read, have teleconferences or sleep”

    Pah. Several are managing this using current technologies. TRY HARDER, GM.

  2. Jon Sparks says:

    Rather like the current, ludicrous, Fiat 500 advert.

  3. Edward says:

    This is why the Segway was a failure. The designers must be kicking themselves for making the user have to stand up.

  4. Tipzz says:

    It’s like an electic bike crossed with a recumbent. i.e. Dork-pocalypse.

    still, I’d rather see cars get smaller than bigger and any computer-driver would be smarter and more attentive than the chumps who try to side-swipe me, TV5 style, most mornings!

    sweet blog, btw


  5. Don says:

    I hope they remember to make them fully submersible. Otherwise there’ll be embarassment when the first person to drive ‘manually’ along a towpath topples into the canal…

  6. OldGreyBeard says:

    Have you ever seen the film WALL-E?

    All the people are so used to being in personal mobility units that their bones have wasted away!

  7. velorichard says:

    A red mist always descends whenever I hear about another tarted-up mobility scooter.

    I recently blogged about a bizarrely spec’d electric bike I saw at my local train station ( Still out of over 100 bikes regularly parked there I’ve only ever seen two e-bikes.

    Companies will keep trying to push them, but I don’t see them becoming a standard for of transport for many reasons. If you just want something to run around town in, they can’t compete with bikes/walking/public transport on cost and convenience or a small fuel efficient car for load carrying convenience. 1 or 2 children and the weekly shopping on a mobility scooter, probably not.

  8. Alien Cyclist says:

    As a committed cyclist, I think the article misses the point. These aren’t designed to replace bikes, but to replace cars for the “I don’t cycle because…..” brigade. They are designs attempting to solve the final mile issue. Sadly, bikes also have issues for many people, although I agree that as a viable option to a car they have many advantages. There is nothing stopping these being used as well as bikes. Some of the more caustic comments here are not helpful in a “let’s get rid of cars” debate and are more reminiscent of the “ban bikes” brigade.

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