This is life! We Drive the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR Concept

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  • The Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR was first unveiled at CES in 2020, and now it’s moving on its own power.
  • The concept is claimed to be inspired from the original Avatars blockbuster film, set in a naturalistic, otherworldly paradise without cars.
  • Now, there’s a sequel, Avatar: Waterway. Vision AVTR is not in the film.

In November, Mercedes and manufacturers Avatar: Waterway invited several journalists to the studio in El Segundo, California, where the creative forces are behind Avatars, James Cameron, has set up shop. There, amid impressive props from Cameron’s previous films—including Terminators film, Aliensand Giant—we saw some clips from the new film and followed the Vision AVTR concept.

First, let’s just say that James Cameron is about as safe a bet as any in the movie business, and the clips shown look pretty good. However, Mercedes-Benz’s relationship with the film which takes place in the fictional world of a blue giant who spends most of his time swimming seems more than tenuous.

“You respond to your environment,” explained one of the film’s producers, Jon Landau, in a teleconference. “If you walk through the world Avatars, things change. You connect and respond to your environment. Bioluminescence, when you touch it things react. And cars do the same in their environment.” See? There is a connection.

Vision AVTR does look futuristic. This is a future where, it seems, side door beams and seat belts have become unnecessary, even the tires have accent lighting, the tiny flaps in the bodywork open and close like gills, and don’t need much cargo space.

avatar2 x vision avtrpress trip film studios la

Robin Trajano

avatar2 x vision avtrpress trip film studios la

Robin Trajano

In a cockpit separate from the actual car, the Mercedes team demonstrated some of the technology in question. That includes the entire dash that illuminates and transmits information, mostly from overhead projectors. The central control knob between the driver and passenger makes it possible to steer the vehicle by moving it forwards and backwards, left and right.

The AVTR is not based on any current production Mercedes, electric or otherwise, and uses four electric motors inside nearly every big wheel. Each motor and each wheel can operate independently of one another, meaning the crab car turns sideways or turns almost within its own wheelbase.

The extent of actual versus aspirational AVTR specs is a bit hazy. But Mercedes says that the combined output of the motors is 350 kilowatts, which is just over 469 horsepower.

The battery pack circumvents the current industry standard lithium-ion for graphene-based organic cell chemistry, which can also be produced without the use of rare earth minerals or other toxic materials. And it can be recycled. Mercedes projects that charging such a large battery, with a capacity of 100 kilowatt-hours, only takes 15 minutes.

Time to go for a ride. Getting inside an actual vehicle and out into the California sunshine proves one thing: The future still requires highly efficient air conditioning. With so much glass and/or other transparency, enormous solar loads are required.

With undeveloped suspension and tires made to look spectacular rather than ride smooth, the AVTR is like rattling around the studio in the back of a safety golf cart. But the ease of controlling the car with the center stick is impressive. If the future is full of connected vehicles constantly communicating with each other, and artificial intelligence is in place to keep things moving, then maybe just the stick drivers want.

Of course, the future is unlikely to follow exactly in AVTR’s footsteps. And it’s also unlikely that there’s an accessible planet full of big blue people either. But that’s what’s exciting about the future, it can be anything.

Avatar: Waterway open everywhere Thursday night. So far, the early reviews have been glowing. Just don’t expect to see AVTR in it.

preview for We Ride in the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR

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