Today's electric cars and the infrastructure needed to support them may seem far out compared to conventional cars that run on gasoline, but they're inside-the-box thinking compared to what's on the drawing boards.
Automakers are pushing the definition of the motor vehicle as they contemplate a future with densely populated cities that are inhospitable to today's cars and trucks.
General Motors Co.'s EN-V concept is one example of that out-of-the-box thinking. It's a tiny, battery-powered, two-seat vehicle based on a two-wheeled Segway scooter.
Today's electric vehicles struggle to achieve higher performance and greater range than the current 100 miles or so, to compete credibly with gasoline power. But the futuristic EN-V's top speed is 25 mph and its maximum range only 25 miles.
How is that an improvement?
The key is the "N" in EN-V, which stands for "Networked." The entire name is Electric Networked Vehicle. GM and its Chinese partner, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., unveiled three versions of the concept car in March at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.
Takeshi Mitamura, general manager of the Mobility Service Laboratory at the Nissan Research Center in Japan, said in a phone interview that three macrotrends are driving the development of such imaginative vehicles from now until 2050: increased urbanization, an aging population and the switch to electric power from fossil fuels.
Those trends imply that for automakers to remain relevant, they will have to offer much smaller, more maneuverable and more "intelligent" vehicles, Mitamura said.