ATSUGI, Japan -- Nissan Motor Co., aiming to take leadership in electric and autonomous cars, debuted its vision for both in a concept whose interior automatically reconfigures like a Transformer robot depending on the driving mode.
The supersleek IDS Concept hatchback showcases a host of new technologies Nissan is developing in its push to roll out increasingly sophisticated autonomously driving cars by 2020.
It includes a prototype next-generation lithium ion battery with double the energy density of the pack in today’s Leaf electric vehicle.
The car was unveiled officially at the Tokyo Motor Show, but was shown to the press in advance at Nissan’s technical center here on the outskirts of Tokyo.
The IDS Concept gets its name from Intelligent Driving System, a suite of technologies Nissan is packaging under the catchphrase: “Because driving is a full-time job and humans are only human.”
Nissan has been chasing autonomous driving since August 2013, when CEO Carlos Ghosn announced plans to have cars with self-driving technologies in multiple vehicles by 2020. Nissan’s push comes as traditional automakers face new high-tech rivals from Silicon Valley that are using their software expertise to develop the advanced electronics needed for the systems.
The IDS Concept brims with autonomous driving and artificial intelligence systems that foreshadow what Nissan has in store.
Among Japanese automakers, Nissan has been the leader in this field, said Egil Juliussen, principal analyst for autonomous driving at IHS Automotive.
Mercedes-Benz is generally considered No. 1 among global players, but the technology is so new and fast-moving that new competitors can quickly rise to the fore, Juliussen added.
Nissan said it expects to deploy Intelligent Driving technologies seen in the IDS Concept in the 2020s.
“Nissan Intelligent Driving improves the driver’s ability to see, think and react. It compensates for human error,” Ghosn said in a release. “As a result, time spent behind the wheel is safer, cleaner, more efficient and more fun.”
The fun starts with a hideaway steering wheel and rotating instrument cluster that disappear during autonomous mode.
The IDS Concept offers Manual Drive, for traditional hands-on-wheel operation, or Piloted Drive, for sit-back-and-ride convenience.
The cockpit layout for Manual Drive is fairly traditional.
But switch it into autopilot, and watch the transformation unfold. The steering wheel rolls away, while the instrument cluster pivots forward to reveal a giant iPad-like touch screen where the steering wheel used to be.
Meanwhile, all four seats rotate inward for a more intimate setting for human interaction as the machine takes over.
The car knows where it’s going because it bristles with radar sensors, cameras and laser scanners to get a 360-degree view.
“The driving ability exceeds that of humans,” said Takashi Sunda, a deputy director of r&d. “People can only focus on one thing at a time, but in the case of the vehicle, it is superior because it can focus on many objects at once.”