Paul Horrell25 March 2010

iReal American hero

GM’s bizarre battery-powered two-wheeler could drive itself. Off a cliff, with any luck

GM EN-V Concept

This week General Motors - that giant, po-faced car-producing arm of the US government - revealed that it does in fact have a rollicking sense of slapstick humour. The proof: the EN-V ‘future urban mobility' concept.

This bizarre battery-powered device was developed with help from Segway, another answer in search of a question. Like the Segway, it uses bewilderingly complex gyro-sensor electronics to balance on just two wheels. They're arranged side-by-side, not fore and aft like other two wheelers.

See more pics of GM's EN-V concept

When parked the EN-V rests on two tiny dolly wheels, as well as the main wheels. But once turned on, it rears up into its wheelie position.

The developers say it's designed to have network capabilities, GPS and proximity sensors. It could talk to its brethren, find parking and charging spaces. If GM's trigger-happy corporate-liability lawyers could be pacified, it could therefore drive itself.

You could go somewhere, jump out, and then pack it off to graze some electricity, in the knowledge it will come back when you call for it. Like a faithful donkey.

GM chose to unveil the EN-V in Shanghai, saying: ‘Shanghai is expected to become one of the epicentres for the establishment of personal mobility solutions for the future.'

Certainly Shanghai needs new forms of transport. GM has recently helped to sell the residents so many cars that traffic is now completely choked much of the time. With the EN-V, GM has gone into battle with the Toyota i-Real.

The way GM paints it, the EN-V is an environmental miracle because it weighs just 500kg and takes up about a fifth of the parking space of a normal car.

Well that's one way of looking at it. The other is to realise that it's still about 25 times heavier and bulkier than a bicycle, which used to be Shanghai's main form of transport. And its range and speed (20-odd miles, 20-odd mph flat out) are spookily similar to a bike's.

D'oh.

Paul Horrell, Consultant Editor of Top Gear magazine

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