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GM floats autonomous two-seater city car idea

EV concept car with GPS, cameras, sensors, and vehicle-to-vehicle communication could direct itself around congested city streets.

Artist's rendering of GM's new EN-V concept car in the Jiao (Pride) model General Motors

General Motors on Wednesday unveiled its Electric Networked-Vehicle (EN-V), a two-seater urban transport concept vehicle it's developing in conjunction with the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. (SAIC).

The EN-V is not intended for highway driving, but for what GM refers to as "personal urban transport," an idea already taken up by several companies and academic research groups. Many feel there's a need for "last mile" transport or gap transport, a means of transportation that covers the area between where public transport drops off and an exact final destination.

Walking is already the obvious solution in many cases. But in severe weather, when touting packages, or in cities lacking extensive public transport reach, people still tend to take a car over public transport. Providing another option could be the key to getting people to leave those cars outside the city.

The EN-V aims to offer a solution to city traffic congestion, parking, poor air quality, and affordability, according to GM. Using the same platform, the car could come in three distinct looks: the Jiao (Pride), Miao (Magic), and Xiao (Laugh).

The EN-V, which looks like a cross between a Smart Car and MIT's City Car, is actually a descendant of the Project PUMA (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) that GM unveiled in April 2009. The PUMA is a two-wheel car built with Segway technology.

The EN-V runs on lithium ion batteries that can recharge from a standard household outlet. Its global positioning system, vehicle-to-vehicle communications network, and a sensor and camera system would allow it to be driven manually, or operate autonomously once given a set destination. The combined technology would give it the ability to navigate the complicated urban atmosphere of constantly changing traffic and pedestrian situations, according to GM.

The EN-V concept car will be unveiled in the SAIC-GM Pavilion at the World Expo 2010 Shanghai, an expo showcasing tech products and ideas geared toward the goal of sustainable urban living. It runs May 1 through October 30.

Artist's rendering of the Xiao (Laugh) version of the EN-V General Motors
Artist's rendering of the Miao (Magic) version of the EN-V General Motors