Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo Concept Targets Gen Z

Mercedes Concept SUVWagon Rendering - H 2015
Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes Concept SUVWagon Rendering - H 2015

The latest Mercedes concept is a futuristic self-driving minivan aimed at Generation Z.

Mercedes-Benz will unveil Vision Tokyo, the latest in its series of concept self-driving vehicles, at the Tokyo Auto Show this Friday, Oct. 30.

The concept presents what Mercedes hopes will appeal to Generation Z, the offspring of millennials born since 1995 who, like their parents, are ambivalent about car ownership.

"The role of the vehicle has changed for this generation," Mercedes acknowledged, introducing the car. "It is no longer simply a means of getting around but a digital automobile companion."

In the Vision Tokyo, that translates into an autonomous minivan that doubles as "a hip living space — a chill-out zone in the midst of megacity traffic."

The interior layout dispenses with traditional seating rows for a wraparound couch similar to those found in today's decidedly unhip stretch limousines, a nod to social media-devouring Gen Z's supposed craving for personal contact along with their tech.

As with Mercedes' F 015 concept introduced at the 2015 CES International Show, the Vision Tokyo's lounge-like interior is outfitted with a hidden steering wheel that can be deployed for conventional operation, but both cars' default setting is autonomous. The Vision Tokyo would use machine learning and other predictive algorithms to learn the occupants' preferences as it was driven and be powered by hydrogen fuel cells and a high-voltage battery, with a range of 600 miles.

Some analysts are skeptical about the future of fuel-cell technology, especially with the cost of lithium-ion batteries that power pure electric cars like Tesla's Model S expected to drop significantly after Tesla's $6 billion battery gigafactory goes online next year. But Mercedes and Japanese carmakers especially continue to invest in the technology.

Among luxury carmakers, Mercedes has been particularly aggressive in courting younger drivers, testing the lower reaches of the market with models like the $30,000 CLS, a runaway hit after its introduction in 2013. 

At last week's GloSho green-tech conference in Los Angeles, panelists stressed the importance of marketing to younger buyers.

Former eBay executive Steve Westly, founder of the tech venture capital firm the Westly Group, said that in 16 months, millennials will overtake the baby boomer generation as the largest buying cohort on the planet. "They will be the driving force of the global economy," Westly predicted.

The Tokyo Auto Show runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7.