The Renault Scénic returns as a hydrogen PHEV concept car, Valeo announced Level 4-ready LIDAR tech, Nissan and Mitsubishi launch a pair of adorable electric kei cars. All this and more on today’s issue of The Morning Dump.
Welcome to The Morning Dump, bite-sized stories corralled into a single article for your morning perusal. If your morning coffee’s working a little too well, pull up a throne and have a gander at the best of the rest of yesterday.
Renault Gets Scénic Again
While the combustion-powered Renault Scénic MPV that has carried so many families around Europe may be out of production, that hasn’t stopped the French automaker from rolling out a brand new concept under the Scénic name. Not only is it great to look at, it also packs a genuinely novel plug-in hybrid powertrain that doesn’t use dino juice at all. Let’s get into things.
It’s not everyday that a people-carrier can be described as seriously handsome, but the Scénic Vision concept is certainly up-to-date on its looks. From the ultra-strong Volvo-esque beltline to the blunt nose, Gilles Vidal and his team have done a fantastic job on the Scénic Vision. The styling is taut, refined, and just restrained enough to seem almost production-ready. Good stuff. The Scénic Vision’s interior is also great, a cocoon of diffused light panels, paint-splatter trim and stripey barcode carpeting. It’s modern, refined, and yet still fun. Look at these square screens for displaying various functions, poking out of the dashboard and door cards like sixth-generation iPod Nanos. Wicked.
Perhaps more important than the styling and interior of the Scénic Vision is the powertrain. It’s a plug-in hybrid, but not like the plug-in hybrids that you and I know. While the Scenic Vision’s 40 kWh battery pack is perfectly fine for short trips and zipping about metropolitan areas, this concept also packs a hydrogen fuel cell for longer journeys. That’s right, we’re looking at a hydrogen plug-in hybrid, arguably the best of both worlds when it comes to electric vehicles. Heaps of range and fast refilling for areas where hydrogen stations are plentiful, the security blanket of a short electric range for areas where EV charging stations are the only green way. It’s marvelous. So will the Scénic Vision ever make production? Honestly, who knows? The novel powertrain seems plausible and the styling seems almost production-ready with a few minor tweaks, but Renault’s keeping its cards close to its chest. Here’s to hoping.
The Future Of AMG Still Involves Thumping Great Motors
It’s not everyday that a concept car lacking some really basic exterior features is a big deal, but the Mercedes Vision AMG is a great preview of where AMG is going. Before we get into the intricacies of this concept car, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Where the hell are the side and rear windows? Is this some contrived metaphor for not looking back? Not quite. Look really closely and you’ll see that the side windows are actually a very fine body-color mesh, effectively like tinted windows.
Alright, mystery sorted, now why is the Vision AMG a big deal? It’s not just the styling, although it’s nice to see that Mercedes can make an EV that doesn’t look like someone stuck wheels on Chicago’s bean sculpture, it’s the architecture. While the SLS Electric Drive may have been the first electric AMG, it certainly won’t be the last full-fat AMG with an electric powertrain. However, as electric vehicles have grown more advanced over the past decade, it’s becoming more and more difficult to offer a signature brand DNA. Sheer weight, heaps of power, and low noise in every electric car tends to homogenize the mainstream pack. Sure, you can find significant differences in handling, but AMG has historically been about power. That’s where the AMG.EA architecture comes in.
See, AMG still cares about impressive motors, it’s just switching gears from combustion to electricity. As a result, the Vision AMG packs an axial flux motor, a significant leap forward from the radial flux motors in most electric vehicles. So what does an axial flux motor offer? How about a lot more power than a radial flux motor. While Mercedes is coy on details, it’s not unusual for axial flux motors to produce 30 to 40 percent more torque and offer better cooling than equivalent radial flux motors. Yeah, that’ll do nicely. Also part of the AMG.EA platform is better packing that allows for lower silhouettes, which often lead to the feeling of sitting in a car rather than sitting on a car.
Press releases occasionally offer some gold, and the marketing copy for the Vision AMG serves up an inadvertently hilarious nugget. “Despite the battery pack in the floor of the car between the axles, the study sits considerably lower than the EQS and, thanks to its intelligently designed interior floor, offers plenty of space for four.” Does this mean that the EQS has an unintelligently-designed interior floor? That would explain why rear headroom is so tight.
Anyway, the Vision AMG really seems to bode well for the future of AMG. While the shift to four-cylinder engines sounds concerning, the eventual AMG electric vehicles sound like they could be brilliant. More power-dense motors, low centers of gravity, attractive silhouettes. That’s a pretty good combination, no matter how you slice it.
Valeo Makes Some Bold LIDAR Claims
With everyone racing to bring Level 4 autonomy to market, automotive supplier Valeo has just announced a big step forward. According to an Automotive News report, the third-generation lineup of Valeo’s Scala LIDAR tech can enable Level 4 autonomy. Yeah, this is a pretty big deal. So where did this Scala system come from, where are we currently seeing it, and how does this third generation improve on existing LIDAR tech?
Well, Valeo’s a French automotive supplier that makes a little bit of everything. Think OEM wiper blades, radiators, 48-volt mild hybrid systems, and everything in between. While Valeo does a ton of cool stuff, we’re focusing right now on its Scala LIDAR systems. Scala 1 enabled Level 3 autonomy in the Honda Legend Hybrid EX sedan, a JDM version of what Americans know as the Acura RLX. Scala 2 is available on the Mercedes-Benz EQS, enabling internationally-approved Level 3 technology, a huge step forward in vehicle automation. Scala 3 claims a twelvefold increase in resolution, a tripling of range and a wider field of view than Valeo’s existing tech. If that feels light years ahead of what’s currently available, you’re not wrong.
Scala 3 claims a total range of 200 meters (220 yards, 656 feet and two inches), the ability to keep track of vehicles obscured in traffic or by landscape features, and a rain density calculation function. As a result, Valeo feels comfortable to increase Scala 3’s maximum speed threshold to 130 km/h (80.78 mph). Level 4, here we come. Honestly, it’s going to take a bit of time before we see Level 4 autonomy on our roads. Valeo claims Scala 3 won’t be ready until 2024, and then God only knows how long regulatory bodies will take to approve consumer-owned Level 4 autonomous vehicles. Still, this LIDAR announcement bodes well for the future of autonomous vehicles.
The Spirit Of The Mitsubishi iMIEV Lives On
The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance continues to bear cool fruit, this time in the form of two electric kei cars. In response to Toyota’s wonderfully bizarre two-seat C+pod electric vehicle, Nissan and Mitsubishi have launched a pair of tiny four-seat electric vehicles that coax surprising range out of miniscule battery packs. Let’s have a look.
Nissan calls its variant the Sakura, like the cherry blossoms. How wonderful is that? Mitsubishi on the other hand, calls its version the eK X EV, as it’s really just an electric version of the eK X kei car. Honestly, a rather literal name can also be appreciated. Remember the Volvo Canadian? It was just a 121 made in Nova Scotia. Anyway, look at how adorable these little things are. I could just pick one up and put it in my pocket. The interior on the Sakura looks pretty good too, a nice blend of horizontal shapes keeping with Nissan’s larger Ariya electric crossover.
So how do these little EVs perform? While they’re capped by kei car regulations to 63 horsepower, they both crank out a reasonably stout 144 lb.-ft. of torque. While the battery pack is tiny at 20 kWh, the low power demands correspond to range of 112 miles (180 kilometers) on the WLTC Japan test cycle. I have no idea what that would even correspond to on the EPA test cycle, but figure somewhere in the double digits. Perfect for quick intra-city trips, and sublime considering the Nissan Sakura’s 2,333,100 yen ($18,203) base price.
More importantly, it doesn’t take much time at all to charge a 20 kWh battery pack. Plug in to a standard 120-volt outlet when you get home from work in the evening and one of these tiny EVs should be fully charged come morning. Sweet! Even sweeter is the ability for power to flow out of these kei EVs, enough to power the average Japanese home for a day. Good stuff. While the Mitsubishi i-MIEV may be out of production, it’s cool to see Mitsubishi still making electric kei cars. Quirky, green, city-sized runabouts are definitely alright in my books. Tiny EVs hanging out, hell yeah.
Whelp, time to drop the lid on this edition of The Morning Dump. Mitsubishi and Nissan’s tiny twin EVs sure sound neat, don’t they? I mean sure, range doesn’t seem great, but long-range EVs aren’t always the answer. City dwellers in areas with awful public transportation probably don’t need much in the way of range. To be honest, 60 miles of range sounds perfectly fine for popping across LA or to the exurbs of Toronto. A cheap EV for errands and a fun car for road trips sounds like a fabulous solution to me. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the EV range debate. What sort of environment do you live in, how far do you travel in a day, and do you really need a long-range EV?
Lead photo credit: Renault