The term convergence normally refers to the merging of consumer electronics, entertainment and media, but if recent trends are anything to go by, it could equally apply to the melding of the car and the motorcycle. BMW's enclosed C3 motorcycle is now emerging as a road safety pin-up vehicle and at the Frankfurt Motor Show last month both Volkswagen and Renault exhibited tandem half-width cars that looked for all the world like four-wheeled motorcycles. Now comes news that Nissan is to unveil an electric tandem four-wheeled "Land Glider" concept at Tokyo Motor Show, and the wording of the press statements looks like Nissan is very confident the vehicle will reach showrooms.
Viewed in perspective, the move to tandem, half-width vehicles makes a lot of sense. The number of vehicles on the world's roads is expected to double between 1989 and 2025, while the amount of commonly used roadway will essentially remain the same.
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The average car occupancy in America for cars in 2006 was 1.57 persons, including the driver, so the two seats of a vehicle such as the Volkswagen L1, Renault Twizy or the new Nissan Land Glider should be more than adequate for the vast majority of road users. In Europe, drivers spend approximately 25% of their road-going time in traffic jams already, so a future of extremely congested roadways looks inevitable unless something radical is done. Who knows, maybe one day you'll pay extra for use of full width lanes on the way to work, and your parking rate will be directly proportional to the footprint of your vehicle.
Nissan's Land Glider is still a long way from the showroom, but its presence at Tokyo Motor Show is an indicator that Nissan sees a future with this form of vehicle in urban environments, particularly given that it is much simpler to build using EV architecture than with a petrol engine, it will help reduce traffic congestion and make more effective use of parking space.
From a driving viewpoint, the lighter weight of a much smaller vehicle will further enhance the torquey power characteristics of an electric motor to achieve what Nissan is touting as "linear acceleration."
The most exciting aspect for sporting drivers who just can't handle the vulnerability of motorcycles, is that in addition to the motorcycle-like acceleration afforded by a high torque to weight ratio, the Land Glider will offer the gravity-defying lean angles and exhilaration of a tilting vehicle.
The Land Glider originated when Nissan's planning and design team was asked to explore new forms of zero emission mobility that redefined existing segments.
With more than 50% of the world's population living in big cities in the near future, designers latched onto motorcycles as a credible base to start the design process and a tandem two-seat, cocoon-like structure sitting on a zero emission powertrain emerged. With four wheel stability and a sense of safety that originates from a tilting cabin, Nissan is hoping the Land Glider will appeal to both two- and four-wheel enthusiasts. While we doubt the former of these propositions, we think the sporting prowess afforded by the light weight could well attract a sizeable niche of emission - and cost-conscious - road users away from traditional four wheel commuters.
One statement from the press release really says it all - "Targeted at city dwellers of all generations, the Land Glider is a serious motoring statement of the new era of mobility that Nissan intends to lead." It's hard to see that statement as meaning anything but that Nissan will pursue the tilting four-wheel form factor.
"The exterior incorporates a soft, sleek-looking body that appears to be protected by a special armor," explains Takashi Nakajima, Nissan's Project Design Director. "And while it is very mechanical in its nature, the four-wheeler boasts a dynamic body design that almost seems alive. As part of Nissan's expanding zero emission family, the Land Glider exudes a clean, friendly attitude."
The vehicle's two-seater tandem layout is enveloped in what seems like the canopy of a glider, while its unique "tilt" setup employs a special leaning function that holds occupants firmly in place even when the vehicle is cornering at angles. In developing the Land Glider, Nissan designers have created a two-seater that offers the sense of security of a cocoon, but delivers real driving pleasure.
Described as a "personal city commuter", the Land Glider features steering-by-wire and a lean capability when cornering - like a motorcycle - that enables the vehicle and its tires to lean by up to 17 degrees - it may not be the 45 degree plus of a sports motorcycle, but more than enough to have safe, low-speed fun while driving to work.
The Land Glider's steer-by-wire functionality uses sensors to measure vehicle speed, steering angle and yaw rate, then calculates the angle of lean required to negotiate a corner. By enabling the Land Glider to lean, designers have been able to minimize both vehicle and tire tread width, thus achieving a sleek, futuristic look, reducing the drag coefficient of the vehicle by roughly half and the rolling resistance will also decrease significantly.
The Land Glider is rear-wheel drive, with two electric motors in the rear powered by lithium-ion batteries mounted beneath the floor to offer an extremely low center of gravity.
The car also features a non-contact charging system that can be charged whilst shopping at a supermarket or stopping at a motorway service station. This system enables vehicles to be charged wirelessly at locations where the infrastructure exists.
To ensure maximum safety whilst driving, engineers have fitted a car-robotics style crash avoidance system in which sensors mounted in the body detect other vehicles in the same way as fish swim in schools without colliding. This system directs the vehicle's path away from any obstacles.
The final paragraph of Nissan's press statement also indicates that the vehicle is destined for showrooms: "Whilst Land Glider is a concept car created for the Tokyo Motor Show. It should not be regarded as a mere design study. This leaning machine gives a clear direction to how a future small car from Nissan could look in congested cities...a clue of what Nissan means by new era of mobility."