With its cobalt hues and fluid form, the Renault Ondelios has a distinct Blade Runner vibe. The Mini Crossman takes the cheery countenance of the Mini Cooper and injects a hearty dose WWE-strength 'roid rage.
But rarely has one design theme been carried to its natural conclusion in one fell swoop.
Meet the Nissan Nuvu — an organic design concept built for the future of urban driving.
Unveiled among many other pie-in-the-sky concepts at the Paris Motor Show this week, the Nuvu is Nissan's take on what the metropolitan electric vehicle will become by the end of this century.
Diminutive dimensions, maximum mobility
In the early stages of the Nuvu project, Nissan designers envisioned a far more crowded world. With every major city filled to bursting point, space would become a expensive commodity -- creating pressure on everyone to scale down their lives to a city-friendly scale.
"The most important aspect of Nuvu is the interior design which provides comfort and space in an intelligent package designed to make the best use of our crowded roads and limited parking," said Francois Bancon, general manager of Nissan's Exploratory and Advance Planning Department.
Inside the Nuvu, broad swaths of glass lend the feeling of open space to an otherwise small car. Within its nine-foot, ten-inch length, the Nuvu can seat the driver and two passengers, with the second riding in a fold-out jumpseat beside and behind the front row seat.
The decision to build a 2+1 concept stemmed from research conducted by Bancon and his designers. "We found that for 90 percent of the time, the driver was alone. For five percent of the time there was one passenger and for four percent of the time there were two passengers. You can do the math to find out how often four or more people were in the car." said Bancon.
Responding to this research, the Nuvu's seating configuration offers the flexibility to ferry both people and their things for a typical supermarket or shopping trip, without making the sacrifices brought about by strict two-seaters (I'm looking at you, Smart forTwo).
A tranquil refuge from the urban world
If the present is any indication, our intensely urban future will likely be blighted by the cold cubic subdivisions of concrete and steel as towering buildings become commonplace.
Bancon and his design team sought to create a refuge from such a world. Every surface is bathed in light radiating through the Nuvu's glass roof. Designers chose contrasting blue-green and orange hues creating a haven of green tranquility in stark contrast to the urban jungle.
To reinforce this message, Nuvu incorporates a witty representation of its green credentials: across its all-glass roof are a dozen or so small solar panels. Shaped like leaves on a branch, the power they generate is fed to the drivetrain battery using a tree trunk power conduit within the car.
Under the hood, Spongebob meets kilowatts
The ecological design theme continues outside. Nearly every surface of the Nuvu has an organic quality to it. Aside from the broad sharp outline of the side windows, the Nuvu is defined by sweeping line and bulging surfaces. Painted in a matte orange hue, the car begs comparison to goldfish, guppies and countless other aquatic youngsters.
Distilled to its mechanical essence, the Nuvu is designed for ease of operation and near zero maintenance.
Driver controls are as simple as possible. All the major functions — steering, braking, transmission and throttle — are processed digitally by-wire, while the steering is controlled by an aircraft-style steering yoke. With just one turn from lock to lock, the steering is very direct for agility and maneuverability; the Nuvu's turning radius is barely more than 12 feet.
With a six-foot two-inch wide track and the use of 165/55R16 tires mounted on lightweight wheels, ride comfort, stability and agility are all of the highest order.
Two screens on the dashboard display the view behind the car; there are no door mirrors to disturb airflow. These screens double as monitors for the Nuvu's Around View Camera - a technology already in use on the Infiniti EX crossover — which give a birds eye view of the car when maneuvering at slow speeds.
The Nuvu is powered by a rear-mounted electric motor that offers an estimated top speed of 75 mph and a range of about 78 miles. The motor draws energy stored in laminated lithium-ion batteries that can recharge passively via the integrated solar panel roof. When plugged in, the Nuvu's batteries require 10 to 20 minutes for a quick 25 percent recharge and three to four hours to completely a full charge from a 220V home outlet.
Where will all this go?
Nissan has already announced plans to introduce an all-electric car in Japan and the US in 2010 and market it globally in 2012. Nuvu is not that car, though it uses much of the same technology that will be used in the Nissan's future production electric vehicle.
In the long term, Nissan foresees a future based around a line up of zero emission vehicles regardless of their size, category and usage. Nuvu — or its future production version — is just one element of this emission-free future.