As a leading proponent of self-driving vehicles, Nissan presented the IMx concept as a harbinger of the company’s perception of future mobility, particularly in Japan. Unveiled at the Tokyo show, the sleek IMx not only makes a case for autonomous automobiles, it’s also consistent with the trend toward universal automotive electrification, which is heavily supported by the Japanese government.

Consistent with that trend, the IMx doubles down on the electric technology of its production EV, the Leaf, boasting a greater range between charges—as much as 370 miles—as well as expanding well beyond the Leaf’s ProPILOT Drive self-driving capabilities.

For example, according to Nissan the driver of a car with IMx capabilities could have him or herself dropped off at an airport, send the car off to park itself, and summon the car from the parking lot upon returning. While this ignores details such as a driverless car gaining entry to an airport parking lot and then paying the fee upon being summoned, it goes well beyond ordinary autonomous capabilities such as negotiating ordinary traffic.

PD or MD: your choice

An appealing element in the IMx approach to self-driving is that it gives the driver the option of actually being the driver. Unlike the Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles under development by some carmakers, the IMx has a steering wheel and foot pedals.

When the driver wants the car to take charge of mobility, pressing a center console switch puts the car into PD (ProPilot Drive) mode. The steering wheel retracts into the dashboard, the seatbacks recline slightly, the driver and passengers relax, and the car goes its merry way, with course adjustments available via voice command.

During autonomous operation the car’s sophisticated infotainment system responds to gestures and even eye movements, as well as audible commands. When the driver decides to take control, the same switch restores the car to MD (Manual Drive) mode, the controls re-emerge, and the driver is a driver again.

Also: Check out all of the latest news from the Tokyo Motor Show

Still fun to drive

Also, Nissan hasn’t forgotten that fun-to-drive—agility and brisk acceleration—is an important component in a car that can function as a switch-hitter between autonomous and conventional operation. IMx propulsion is provided by electric motors operating on the front and rear axles, making it effectively an all-wheel drive system. Aside from 370-mile range claim, Nissan furnished no information on the power of the electric motors, the kilowatt-hour rating of the battery pack, or the type of batteries employed.

However, the battery pack is entirely contained below the car, according to Nissan, allowing for a flat floor inside the cabin.

While some elements of the IMx may seem more sci-fi than real possibilities, Nissan has been testing its ProPilot Drive systems on public roads in Japan, and the company continues to target the 2020 model year for the introduction of true autonomous vehicles. 

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