- Concept created by two Car Design Research associates proposes electric vans as an alternative to short-haul airline flights.
- Vans could be based at airport rental agencies, offering the same routes as those offered by airlines.
- EV ride-pooling with Level 4 autonomous tech is something that’s already headed into production, just not on an inter-city level.
This past holiday travel season was surely among those that tested the maximum distance Americans would opt to drive instead of fly. Yet even without the disruptions sparked by the pandemic—not to mention the fear of infection from crammed airplane cabins—short-haul flights themselves may be ripe for a rethinking given the indignities of modern air travel and the pollution they create. The time and hassle of just getting to an airport, and then enduring the ever-popular TSA lines once there, makes the the decision to drive more attractive if the door-to-door time comes close to overall time it takes to fly.
A concept created by two Car Design Research associates looks at an alternative to short-haul flights that could prove viable in the age of EVs and autonomous driving, one that would generate only 2% of the current airplane emissions per air passenger on a short- haul flight.
Named appropriately the Budget Airline Car, the core concept envisions six-passenger electric vehicles that would travel between cities. CDR design associates Aditya Jangid in India and Yichen Shu in China worked on the core concept, and then created two slightly different design variations.
“During lockdown in 2021, the CDR team were discussing this context of a fast-changing world and unrealized opportunities for car design, and came up with six new car types that would be enabled by new technologies, and that would be part of uniquely pertinent future scenarios,” Car Design Research notes. “One of these focused on being an alternative to the short-haul flight—the form of transport most at the heart of today’s imperatives to change because it creates an increasingly untenable level of environmental damage, and because being in airport queues and airplane cabins with hundreds of people is ever less desirable in these COVID times.”
The resulting concept renderings show a three-row MPV with seating for six passengers, one that could be owned by airlines themselves or car rental agencies, with an electric powertrain optimized for long-distance cruising as well as aerodynamics. With a length of about 16 feet, the vehicle would also have enough space for luggage and room for passengers to stretch out comfortably. Passengers would be expected to share the driving, but could also rely on advanced driver assistance systems for highway driving.
“As governments ban or restrict short haul flights (in Austria, France, and the Netherlands already) and more people wake up to the environmental impact of flying, as the pandemic continues to make being surrounded by hundreds of strangers unappealing, and as connected, autonomous, shared, and electric technologies come to the fore, so the Budget Airline Car illustrates how a new type of car design could be a better solution for millions of passengers a year,” CDR adds.
We have a feeling we know what you’re thinking: This is just an electric shuttle bus, or a smaller Greyhound bus for just six passengers, and point-to-point driving between airports. To some degree that’s true, but it’s also worth noting that this concept, one that combined autonomous driving and an electric platform, is something that’s already in the works by at least one automaker.
Volkswagen’s MOIA mobility start-up has designed something quite similar and has shown a working prototype (albeit one meant for intra-city ride-pooling rather than trips between cities) based on the upcoming ID.Buzz, meant to be a driverless, Level 4 autonomous vehicle. The automaker plans to launch the service in Germany in just three short years, so the concept sketched out by CDR applies this idea to intercity travel as an alternative to cramming into a regional jet. Several autonomous tech developers also envision this type of travel—in one’s own vehicle, once Level 3 and Level 4 tech becomes more commonplace in private vehicles.
Does the concept of an electric Budget Airline Car have a future once Level 4 autonomous tech arrives to make these trips driverless? Let us know in the comments below.
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