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Mercedes-Benz’s Van of the Future Delivers People and Cargo

Mercedes-Benz’s vision for the future of urban transportation has no gas tank, no seat belts, and no driver.

The app-based Vision Urbanetic rideshare concept on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas features an open, night club-like cabin where passengers can stand, sit or recline. When not shuttling commuters or rideshare passengers, the boxy, all-purpose EV can transform into a cargo van, delivering up to 10 cubic meters of packages and goods around the city.

As Mercedes imagines it, the van will be fully autonomous and on the move constantly, stopping only to charge its batteries. Conceived as a solution between car ownership and public transportation, the mixed-use vehicle addresses modern mass transit’s lack of convenience, efficiency and flexibility, according to Thomas Moser, project manager for the Vision Urbanetic.

“It’s not taking over public transport, but it’s in addition to that,” Moser said.

Operating as a fleet, the concept would improve urban life by reducing traffic, congestion, noise and emissions and providing transportation on request, he said. A management system powered by artificial intelligence would optimize the route based on real-time traffic data and moderate supply and demand as determined by the mobile app.

Built on a self-driving platform that can swap between passenger and cargo modules within minutes, the Vision Urbanetic gives Mercedes a stake in the most feasible, early-stage uses for autonomous technology: rideshare and delivery. Several automakers, from Ford to Toyota, are exploring ways to move away from traditional car ownership in favor of innovations in next-generation mobility.

Inside, the lack of driver’s seat, steering wheel and pedals permits more room for passengers. Designers intended benched, stadium seating in the van’s rear to create a cocoon-like environment for passengers on longer drives, while the front is configured for users taking shorter rides. A high ceiling allows passengers to stand upright without hitting their heads.

“We didn’t want to install fixed seats,” Moser said. “It’s important for ride pooling that every place is accessible from the door. You don’t need to ask anyone to move.”

An expansive, domed window in the center of the van features a ticker that can display the real-time route or points of interest along the way, according to Moser.

In cargo mode, a variable load floor can divide the cabin into two levels to accommodate more goods.

The automaker hasn’t said whether it might make a production version of the concept or when it could come. Moser said the van could debut as a beta release before Mercedes modifies and updates its software over the air for a wider launch.

“The Vision Urbanetic is a future-oriented concept, designed to address a needs-based efficient, and sustainable vision of what could be next in mobility,” a Mercedes spokesman said.

But if the Vision Urbanetic does become reality, it would likely debut as a much more conservative version that the concept displayed at CES and possibly as future technology in a Mercedes Sprinter van.

Said Moser, “We gave our designer a lot of freedom to make something new.”