If you thought last week’s Spark EV announcement was a move toward urban density solutions, you would be correct, but Chevrolet has not finished downsizing its electric mobility offerings.

Also announced last week was the Chevrolet-badged second generation of the EN-V Concept.

According to Chris Perry, vice president, global Chevrolet marketing and strategy, the bowtie insignia is significant for the EN-V – which is short for Electric Networked-Vehicle.

“For 100 years, the Chevrolet brand has been focused on making advanced technology that improves customers’ lives accessible and affordable, and the Chevrolet EN-V will continue that tradition,” said Perry. “By 2030, more than 60 percent of the world’s 8 billion people will live in urban areas. The Chevrolet EN-V represents a possible solution for global customers living in markets where alternative transportation solutions are needed.”

2011 Concept Chevrolet EN-V.

Urban crawl

The world population is presently estimated at 7 billion. In 2008 it was 6.7 billion, and that was when the Population Reference Bureau said for the first time 50 percent of the world's population lived in urban areas. At the time, more than 400 cities had over 1 million people and 19 had over 10 million. Developed nations were about 74-percent urban, while less-developed were about 44-percent urban – and expected to grow the fastest.

In projecting 8 billion people in 2030, GM is saying by the time a child born today graduates high school, 4.8 billion could be crammed into urban areas – and GM will be ready.

Assuming it does happen, resultant urban/suburban sprawl may be better navigated by vehicles that look like reality mimicking art – such as the cartoon series, The Jetsons – in which the EN-V would have looked right at home.

The generation 1 Xiao ("laugh") was designed by GM Holden Design Studio in Australia and intended to appear friendly.

The 1,100-pound pod balanced on two side-by-side wheels comes in three versions and stays upright thanks to PUMA (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) gyroscopic technology developed by Segway.

The EN-V offers seating for two, and every comfort and safety feature one would expect, and then some.

By combining vehicle-to-vehicle communications and distance-sensing technologies – including short-range radio, GPS, optical sensors, ultrasonic sensors and doppler radars – the carbon fiber-, Lexan- and acrylic-shelled EN-V can be driven manually or autonomously.

In other words, similar to what Google is doing in its human-free driving experiments, the EN-V can operate without a conscious driver at the controls.

Therefore, unlike carnival bumper cars, this little unit is designed not to crash into anything and GM says it would enable lines of tailgating vehicles “platooning” toward their destinations.

Extreme tailgating, which society is already edging toward, can be feasible through electronics, GM says.

Its proximity sensors and crash avoidance system would thus make safe today’s tendency among American drivers who engage in the unsafe, arguably self-centered and pushy, and basically illegal practice of following too closely.

The EN-V's capabilities could also be the perfect solution for today’s mentally absent drivers who text, groom, feed the kids, watch videos/infotainment, or otherwise conduct their own “autonomous” driving experiments from behind the wheel.

Thus, it could be a cure for what the U.S. Department of Transportation has been holding summits for the past couple of years – the newly diagnosed distracted driving “ epidemic ,” not to mention old fashioned incompetent drivers behind the wheel.

Of course these are our observations.

GM’s spin is naturally only upbeat, and avoids unpleasant realities it no doubt is mindful of, but probably prefers to sidestep due in part to political correctness and marketing principles that dictate accentuating the positive while not insulting one’s constituency.

The company says “autonomous mode” offers mobility to people who may not otherwise be able to operate a vehicle.

Presumably this could include the blind, handicapped, old and infirm, or even children – and to be sure, these could be positive developments.

The generation 1 Jiao ("pride"), designed by GM Europe, was designed to appear chic and stylish.

GM also says the EN-V is a creative “leveraging” of wireless communications, enabling drivers and occupants to communicate hands-free with friends or business associates while on the go.

So, the EN-V will be a rolling phone booth, cyber cafe or office all in one. And do you think today's infotainment like Cadillac's new Cue system is impressive? GM has much more in store.

One could also conceivably put the thing on auto pilot and attempt to catch a little shuteye on the way to work.

The all-electric vehicle presently covers 25 miles on a charge to its lithium-ion battery, is capable of a maximum speed of 25 mph, and GM says this is enough for most urban commutes.

GM further makes a case for the EN-V by saying technology being developed with it could be incorporated into regular vehicles to facilitate environmentally sound and fool-proof driving.

“This technology platform of electric propulsion, sensors, wireless communications and GPS-based navigation is likely to migrate from the EN-V concept to other automobiles and could lead the way to safer, cleaner vehicles in the future,” said Chris Borroni-Bird, GM’s director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts.

The generation 1 Miao ("magic"), created by GM Advanced Design in California is intended to appear mysterious and high-tech.

Borroni-Bird says GM will be busy in the U.S. and around the world exploring locations for potential EN-V pilot programs.

The vehicle has already been embraced by some in China, where GM says generation 1 was “one of the stars of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.”

In April, GM and the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Investment and Development Co. Ltd. (SSTEC) signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on integrating the next-generation EN-V into the Tianjin Eco-City from a power, communications and physical infrastructure perspective.

A new expression of ‘freedom’

America was founded on principles of freedom, and this is a watchword GM uses to explain its intentions to develop optionally brain-free driving for the world.

We find it a bit ironic to speak of freedom when the vehicle does most or all of the thinking for you, but GM’s interpretation is understood.

Movie makers Steven Spielberg or James Cameron have nothing on GM. What Hollywood can only dream of, GM is preparing to build.

In the U.S., the EN-V could conceivably be used in office parks, campuses, and other such environments.

In China, the experimental Tianjin Eco-City is supposed to create lanes where EN-Vs will be able to operate, and such environments are really what would be needed for mass usage.

Today in America, it would not be legal for public roadways, but what if the futurists are right? If so, vehicles like this may in time be given space to traverse densely crowded regions, and could prove more practical than vehicles like the Chevy Volt.