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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 08/02/2011

For GM’s EN-V, it’s hurry up and wait

Is GM’s autonomous, zero-emission EN-V the car of the future? (GM - WIECK)

GM’s EN-V, or Electric Networked Vehicle, an autonomous pod-shaped car, would be able to use GPS satellite signals to steer you and a passenger anywhere within a 25-mile radius at a top speed of between 25 and 30 miles an hour. And there have been rumors that the car is gearing up for production. But if you’re waiting to get your hands on the zero-emission pod, here’s a message from GM: Don’t hold your breath.

“We have no plans to . . . bring it to life as a production model,” said GM’s spokesman for R&D and powertrain, Dan Flores. According to Flores, the EN-V is “purely a concept vehicle.”

“We, as an automaker, want to continue selling products around the world,” he said, going on to reference the fact that GM now sells more cars to foreign consumers than to domestic ones. The EN-V is powered by a lithium-ion battery and was created at GM’s Technical Center in Warren, Mich. It was unveiled last year in Singapore.

“It’s actually designed with the intention of helping a real-world problem — that is urban congestion,” said Flores, referring specifically to the congestion found in mega-cities such as New York, Mumbai and Shanghai. “Essentially EN-V is us thinking out loud” about how to address urban traffic.

GM hopes to begin field trials in the next two to three years. However, current GPS technology is not sophisticated enough to accurately steer the car.

Aside from the need for an improved GPS grid, cities would need to commit to a large infrastructure investment before the EN-V could be considered for wider adoption. Flores noted that, in light of this, the EN-V was likely to be more easily adopted in emerging markets where city infrastructure is being built from scratch.

A General Motors Electric Networked Vehicle concept is driven around a course outside the Las Vegas Convention Center in conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Show in January. (GM - WIECK)
Enter the GM announcement in May of a cooperative agreement with Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Investment and Development to introduce the EN-V in a real-world setting. The Tianjin Eco-City project is a partnership between the governments of China and Singapore to develop an environmentally friendly and sustainable city. “When it comes to urban congestion,” Flores wrote in a follow-up message, “we want to be part of the solution to this growing global issue.”

But the question remains whether autonomous vehicles are truly the right direction for automotive innovation. While being able to go for a night on the town without having to worry about your blood-alcohol level, for example, is convenient, what are we giving up, and are we really making the roads safer? As The Washington Post’s Dominic Basulto wrote of Google’s work in the autonomous-car arena:

A consumer-ready Google Car could challenge our deepest-held notions of what the boundary between man and machine should be when robot drivers guided by satellites and computers begin to navigate the transportation grid.

What do you think: Is autonomy a productive and appropriate goal for automotive innovation? And, if an autonomous car arrived on the market with the necessary infrastructure in place, would you buy one?

We'll be following your responses on Twitter via #futurecar.

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By  |  06:00 AM ET, 08/02/2011

Categories:  Business, Energy, Invention, Technology, Urban Development, Morning Read

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