Beyond cars: Automakers build on three, two, one or no wheels
Who said Ford must stick to products featuring four wheels and an engine? Why can't Honda look beyond its traditional wheeled vehicles? Automakers the world over take on transportation in all its forms.
Lexus models are so comfortable, they seem to hover over the road, but this hoverboard concept takes away the wheels, seats, engine and chassis in favor of electromagnets. Is it merely a marketing ploy, or can Lexus parlay the technology used in Japan's MagLev trains into fun, last-mile transportation? Lexus' teaser video suggests there is still plenty of work to do.
Ford has been thinking deeply about transportation as of late, prepping for the day when cities are so congested you will have to park your car and get on a bicycle. The company showed off two bikes earlier this year, the Mode.Me and Mode.Pro, both using electric drives and able to folded and stowed in a car. This week Ford announced the Mode.Flex, pictured above, that adds car-like light signals and smartphone integration to the electric bike idea.
Ford is hardly the first automaker to build a bicycle. Back in 2010, Volkswagen showed off the Bik.e. Lacking pedals, the Bik.e is more electric scooter than bicycle, able to travel 12 miles on a charge of its lithium ion battery. And yes, it folds up for storage in a car, but even with its early introduction you still can't buy one.
Before it got into hoverboards, Lexus was also considering an electric bicycle. This hybrid concept was shown in 2010, combining eight-speed pedal power with an electric motor. Like Lexus' hybrid cars, this bicycle uses regenerative braking, restoring power to the battery pack whenever you come to a stop. Sadly, the few examples Lexus built are likely sitting in glass cases and unavailable to the public.
Sports car maker McLaren brought its carbon fiber expertise to bicycle maker Specialized to come up with this: the S-Works McLaren Tarmac. Yes, it is another bicycle, but rather than future electric mobility, this is all about lightweight human-powered speed. With frame and forks made using McLaren carbon-fiber production techniques, Specialized says this model weighs 10 percent less than its standard S-Works Tarmac bikes. However, if its $20,000 price tag doesn't turn you off, the fact that the 250 examples being made have all been sold will.
A few automakers have built up significant business in the motorcycle trade, but Dodge has been known for muscle cars and trucks. However, in 2003 it garnered quite a bit of attention with the Tomahawk, a muscle bike if you will, serving as a showcase for the Viper model's 8.3-liter V-10 engine. Even if your name is Kaneda you will have a hard time coming by a Tomahawk, as Dodge only sold nine and didn't make them street legal.
Unlike Japanese competitor Honda, Toyota never got into motorcycle manufacturing, but it is looking at the personal mobility trend with the electric-powered three-wheeler i-Road. An innovative cornering design makes the i-Road far more fun than it should be, while its compact dimensions and short turning circle make it ideal for an urban environment. Better yet, there's a reasonable chance Toyota will put the things on sale.
Forget the merely personal, Mercedes-Benz embraces "all-encompassing mobility" with its Motor Yacht. Built by Silver Arrows Marine under the banner of Mercedes-Benz Style, the idea behind this 45-foot power yacht is that Mercedes-Benz customers can experience the luxury of their cars even on the water. If you are of the yachting type and have $1.4 million to spend, head to Silver Arrows Marine's home in Porto Montenegro and take a three-hour cruise.
What could embody personal mobility more than your own jet? Honda looked to the skies in the 1980s to begin development of the HondaJet, which first flew in 2003 and is currently undergoing FAA certification. The HondaJet will take you on those particularly long commutes at a cruising speed of 300 mph, after which you can ride down the ramp on your Uni-Cub.
What could be more antithetical to the Ultimate Driving Machine than crowded commuter train crawling on rails through an urban environment? Don't worry, BMW isn't exactly changing its business model with this commuter train. Its DesignWorks division is merely designing cabins and cosmetic elements for Siemens' Metro Inspiro train cars. Still, we can't complain about a little BMW DNA in our public transit.
Audi has been leading high-tech efforts in its cars lately, and now seems ready to push beyond the Earth. Partnering with Google Lunar XPrize competitors Part Time Scientists, the goal is to put a rover on the moon that can navigate the terrain and send high-resolution video back to Earth. The Audi Lunar Quattro uses all-wheel-electric-drive with four-wheel independent steering. If Part Time Scientists meets its 2017 launch goal, Audi will be testing off-world mobility, and what a commute that would be.