The Plug-In Passenger | A Review of the (2030) Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury In Motion Concept Car

Written By: Andrew H.

The Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle is offering a vision of autonomous driving in the future. The luxury saloon with total connectivity gives a preview of how the self-driving car of the future could become a platform for communication and interaction.

“Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society,” says Dieter Zetsche, Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. “The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”

Case in point: the Mercedes-Benz F015 Luxury In Motion. Introduced at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, the F015 was designed with a particular sort of future in its crosshairs. Engineers envisioned a hypothetical “City of the Future 2030+,” a place where the outward pull of urbanization will be countered by the inward push towards privacy. According to those engineers, the automobile of that future city will have hydrogen fuel cells, salon doors, lounge chairs, wraparound tail lamps – and no driver.

Passengers, Push Your Buttons!

The F015 is a shot across the bow of the Google Self-Driving Car. The Google prototype is porky and petite; the F015 is anything but. Although it can be driven by a human, the autonomous F015 is intended to act as both chauffer and valet. Say hello, HAL.

Measuring 17 feet long and 6.6 feet wide, the Mercedes F015 has the footprint of a heavy-duty pickup truck and the soul of an RV. It would make Harley Earl proud. It rides on 26-inch wheels and looks vaguely like a bar of bath soap covered in aluminum, carbon fiber-reinforced plastic and tempered glass. Passengers enter through barn-style side doors.

If the Worst Happens

The F015 concept has no B-pillar. It uses “a very sturdy interconnected system with mechanical locking elements” to ensure crash safety, says Mercedes. “These elements securely interlock the front and rear doors when they are closed at the same time as fixing them firmly to the roof frame and side skirts.” The car also has integrated window beltline airbags and, for pedestrians’ sake, daytime LED running lights. Yet if the future lacks road rage, might it also lack road trips?

Inside the Whale

While the car navigates the urban labyrinth, the passengers – four in all – recline in swiveling lounge chairs. The contemporary cabin boasts Plexiglass side panels, a spit n’ polished walnut floor, and ice-white nappa leather seats rimmed with fiber optic cables. Behind the Plexiglass are six touchscreens. This “digital arena” is the cocoon from which passengers can tune into automotive information, make phone calls, snap their fingers for air conditioning, and presumably order lunch. The screens respond to touch, gestures and eye-tracking signals. They can also synchronize with the velocity of the automobile to project virtual landscapes. Passengers can enjoy Florida weather with Colorado scenery.

The estimated cost of development for the Mercedes-Benz F015 Luxury In Motion is $10 million. What incited Mercedes to invest so much into a show-and-tell people pod?

The Death of the Wrench Monkey

The average American drives half an hour to and from work. More than 11 million people commute a full hour each way. Fast forward to the City of the Future 2030+, factor in the suburban sprawl between now and then, and a two-hour commute is not all that unlikely.

The F015 Luxury In Motion is designed around that commute. “The time gained while in their car takes on a whole new quality,” prophesies Mercedes. Could sleep-deprived driving and drunk driving become historical footnotes? Or will sumptuous autonomous vehicles be reserved for the nouveau riche while Average Joe commutes on the local Park n’ Ride?

A Future Without Fossil Fuels

Were the automobiles of the City of the Future 2030+ to rely strictly on gasoline fuel, the city might resemble modern Beijing: smog, smog, smog. The F015 concept, however, relies on two electric motors powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. The system is capable of 163 sustained horsepower (272 peak horsepower) and 298 pound-feet of torque. Peak power comes from an additional high-voltage lithium-ion battery, rechargeable using non-contact induction technology. The lithium-ion battery can propel the vehicle for 124 miles on electric juice alone, after which the hydrogen fuel cell acts as a range extender. Total driving range is 684 miles. Sixty mph arrives in 6.7 seconds.

In 1886, a man named Karl Benz put the world’s first internal combustion engine automobile on the road. In 2030, might a plug-in hydrogen-electric automobile with the same name take man off?