Mercedes-Benz’s new mobility concept is autonomous, electric, modular, and ugly

On Monday, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the Vision Urbanetic, an all-electric, autonomous concept that the German auto giant thinks will redefine mobility. It’s a sign that smartphone makers aren’t the only ones that occasionally flirt with modular designs. Big automakers are increasingly interested in powertrain platforms — the undercarriage of a car or van — that can accommodate a bunch of different vehicle bodies on top.

The Urbanetic isn’t just one type of vehicle; it’s an oversized minivan that’s capable of seating 12 people for ride-hailing trips or used as a cargo van with two different levels for storage and a total volume of 353 cubic feet. Based on its function, the battery-electric “skateboard” chassis can detach and mate with a…

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