As urbanization of the planet increases, more people will be living in cities, thus automobile makers will have to tackle issues such as traffic jams and accidents in these dense living conditions.

Also, people’s lifestyles will continue to evolve and become diverse, and thus cars will also need to bring more convenience to drivers, such as by incorporating the latest technology.

Electric vehicles that give off no emissions while able to avoid traffic jams and accidents through autonomous driving capabilities will offer solutions to urban issues in the future, as the percentage of the world’s people living in urban areas is estimated to increase to 60 percent in 2030.

“Sixty percent, that is the size of the problem here,” said Francois Bancon, division general manager of Nissan Motor Co.’s Product Strategy and Product Planning Division of the Product Strategy Department. “We have a problem in the urban environment and mobility. We cannot keep the same way.”

As the world has many cities with differing problems, solutions to each city’s issues will vary. But in general, Bancon said, Nissan is working to offer three vehicular solutions for future cities: 1) smaller size, 2) zero emissions and 3) autonomy and freedom for drivers.

What Bancon calls autonomy and freedom is everything from avoiding traffic jams and collisions with other vehicles, to being able to use computers while driving or finding a parking spot and fetching a vehicle from the spot with a single tap on a smartphone.

Small size, zero emission, autonomy

Smaller cars will add to the variety of vehicle use as urban lifestyles vary, Bancon said. While there is a limit to the smallness of gasoline engine cars because a standard engine has to be a certain size to work, electric cars can be as small as 1 meter in width.

“Until now, people used the same car to go to the supermarket or to the mountains. This will have to change,” Bancon said. “Most of the time, you don’t need a big car in a big city.”

Bancon pointed out that Nissan introduced the Land Glider concept electric vehicle, whose width is 1.1 meters, at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2009.

Narrower cars mean less space is needed for parking, thus cities in developed countries, such as Tokyo, can benefit from them, Bancon said.

On zero emissions, Nissan has introduced several types of EVs including the commercially available Leaf.

“Zero-emission leadership is our commitment, and we are taking all the initiatives and making all the necessary investments to make it happen,” Nissan said in its Vision statement on its Zero Emission website. “Zero-emission mobility is our passion, a true breakthrough and a key to our future.”

Nissan has sold 71,000 units of the fully-electric Leaf as of July, accounting for more than half of fully-electric vehicles sold worldwide.

Nissan introduces the future of zero-emission mobility supported by a zero-emission infrastructure.

Future picture

In the future picture that Nissan paints, houses will have solar panels and EVs that can be used as rechargeable batteries. At night or on a cloudy day, an EV can supply electricity it has stored during sunny days, and thus zero (or at least near-zero) emissions life. There will be parking lots with charging stations for EVs, where people who drive gasoline cars or take trains or buses can change to EVs, in order to share with people in communities the costs of maintaining the zero-emission infrastructure. Parking lots at convenience stores and diners will have charging functions that will automatically charge parked cars without the need for cords.

Currently at Nissan headquarters in Yokohama, there are solar panels, rechargeable batteries to store electricity and charging stations for EVs. The whole system has the capacity to charge 1,800 Leaf vehicles a year.

In another example of EV use, Nissan has donated six Leaf vehicles to the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission for trials, while New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg aims to have EVs make up a third of the taxis in the city. There are fast EV chargers in the city; additionally, drivers who volunteer to use the Leaf are provided with two chargers.

To realize a zero-emission society, municipalities and industries other than carmakers will need to cooperate, Bancon said. The availability of charging stations is one of the key elements to spreading the use of EVs by the general public.

On autonomy and freedom, among various technologies Nissan is developing is an autonomous driving system to prevent traffic accidents.

“Our slogan is to make cars electric and intelligent. Autonomous driving will eradicate traffic accidents because 93 percent of traffic accidents are caused by human error,” said Youichi Kishimoto, general manager of Nissan’s Planning and Advanced Engineering Development Division of the Technology Planning Department.

In combination with satellite communications and car-to-car communications, EVs will be able to avoid traffic jams on their own, Kishimoto said.

Autonomous driving

Autonomous driving will free up drivers’ hands and attention, and thus drivers can do many things, such as use computers, watch TVs or read books.

“I call it freedom and autonomy because it gives people time to enjoy themselves,” Bancon said. “You need to be connected 24/7. When you are in a car, it should be no different from when you are at home.”

On connectivity to the Internet, Bancon said, “It’s not a discussion. It’s a given. We will have everything in the cloud and we can access it from a car.

“Yes, Nissan is a very ambitious company,” he said.

There is no order in priority of the three points: smaller size, zero emissions and autonomy and freedom, Bancon said. “You need it all, so Nissan will have it all.”

However, priority may vary by locale because each country has different issues.

For example, India has one of the most difficult urban development problems. The population shift to cities is rapid and the problem of traffic jams and accidents is grave, Bancon said.

Also in India, the demand for small cars is low because large luxury cars are considered status symbols, he said.

In Tokyo, smaller cars are in high demand partly because of a shortage of parking spaces.

“But the biggest question in Tokyo is why do you need to own a car? About 60 percent of people use only public transportation in Tokyo,” he said. “The solution would be ‘available only when I need it.’ ”

China is mixed bag. People who were born in the ’80s or later grew up under the “One Child Policy” and are very advanced, while the older generations are more traditional, he said.

Conservative Chinese consider large luxury cars as status symbols just as Indians do, while younger generations seek autonomy and freedom, Bancon said

Meanwhile, Europeans are very demanding about autonomy and freedom and a lot more demanding than Tokyoites on zero emissions, he said.

Bancon also stressed the point that Nissan is collaborating with many municipalities across the world on their “smart community” projects. A smart community is one with residential and commercial infrastructures that can generate and consume electricity efficiently.

One of the primary examples of such collaborations is with the City of Yokohama. According to the master plan of the Yokohama Smart City Project compiled in August 2010, Nissan provides EVs, fuel cells and rechargeable battery electricity to be incorporated into the community energy management system, or CEMS.

Autonomous driving is also an ongoing process.

“It doesn’t make sense to say the time frame as to when automatic driving will be achieved. It will be a gradual process,” Bancon said. “But by 2020, we will have some degree of autonomous driving.”

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