2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid
The question of whether there will be a place for cars--especially luxury cars--in an increasingly urban future is a fair one: local pollution, traffic congestion and resource scarcity all tend to work against such a future. But Mercedes-Benz USA department manager for advanced product planning Sascha Simon thinks there are ways forward for luxury.
Getting there probably won't be easy or inexpensive, however. "Technology can and will help to bring down CO2 emissions dramatically in the future without requiring American drivers to give up the personal mobility that is so important to us," said Simon.
Daimler, Mercedes-Benz's parent company, also owns Smart, maker of the ForTwo city car, which offers more plush accommodations than the typical micro-commuter vehicle, and could be taken as a sort of forerunner of what Simon is talking about. But not everyone is going to want such a tiny vehicle.
To that end, Mercedes is talking about clean diesel technology like that found in its SUVs and soon coming to the E-Class sedan; hybrid tech like that debuted in its S400 lithium-ion hybrid sedan, and coming on the ML450 hybrid; plus the test fleet of fuel cell vehicles due to hit the U.S. next year.
Still, the question of whether there will be a mid- to long-term future for luxury cars in urban centers is one that bears some examination.
In Europe, where population densities are higher than here in the U.S. and the older cities are less well-equipped to handle the sprawl of parking hundreds of thousands or even millions of vehicles, many major cities have already undertaken congestion taxation to keep cars, especially larger, more powerful--and usually, therefore, more luxurious--cars out of the city centers. Similar legislation has been considered in New York City, but has so far met strong resistance.
There are many reasons why it may not be practical to keep or drive a luxury car down the main drags of a modern metropolis, but there are few things as awe-inspiring to the average gearhead as the throaty roar of an Aston Martin or Ferrari V-8 as it cruises a concrete canyon.