It’s a taxi! It’s a delivery van! It’s a Mercedes! If you’re like most drivers, there are times when you wish you had a minivan to haul your extended family around, times when you really need a van to cart your new deck chairs home, and times when a much smaller car will suit your daily driving needs. Apparently, there is some level of demand for an adaptable vehicle that can transform to suit your changing capacity needs, if the recently unveiled Mercedes-Benz Urbanetic concept car is any indication.

What is this crazy concept vehicle and how does it work? What can it offer consumers in the way of amenities and convenience? When will it be available for consumer purchase? Here’s what you need to know about the Mercedes model that could just deliver the widest overall appeal of any of their vehicles to date.

What is the Mercedes-Benz Urbanetic Concept?
This multi-purpose electric vehicle was first revealed in September of 2018 at the IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Copenhagen and it will make its debut stateside at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas from January 8-11. The radical concept is based on a skateboard-style frame that allows for modules to be added on to create more cargo capacity, or alternately, more room for passengers.

In other words, it’s a convertible car, insomuch as it can essentially convert from a daily driver, to a large passenger transport, to a cargo van, depending on your needs. At nearly 17 feet long and over 7.5 feet tall, this vehicle isn’t small by any means.

The addition of the cabin module allows owners to seat up to 12 passengers in the vehicle at once, while switching to the cargo module provides storage capacity for over 30 cubic feet of stuff. What makes this concept truly revolutionary, though, is that users can apparently convert to whatever configuration they choose either manually or automatically, in just a few minutes.

The look of the vehicle is futuristic, with the body somewhere between a minivan and a bullet train, and the graphic wrap resembles nothing so much as the exterior of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The interior, of course, is where passengers will really enjoy a new experience, though.

MB has called their cabin module “organic”, and it is split into three different zones. Because the car is intended to be fully automated, there’s no need for a driver’s seat up front. Instead, there’s a large picture window with a seating area, for sightseeing. There’s also a rear lounge. The middle section of the interior is a standing zone (hence a car that stands at over 7 feet tall, one might presume).

What else will you get? How about an IT infrastructure featuring an interlinked communication system to provide data as you go, as well as entertainment options? LED displays located in the front and rear are designed for connectivity, and when paired with a bevy of sensors on the vehicle, the system communicates with both the outside world and the passengers, sharing data with other connected vehicles on the road for safety purposes while providing information about the trip to those in the car.

The Competition
As it turns out, the Mercedes-Benz Urbanetic concept car is not the first “urban mobility” vehicle to hit the trade show circuit. Toyota debuted their cleverly titled e-Palette concept car at last year’s CES, and it’s also designed to reconfigure to cart people versus cargo. It can even convert to a mobile office and apparently, a functional production model is forecast for use during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Bosch has a horse in the race, as well, with a reveal alongside MB at the 2019 CES. They also have an autonomous, electric shuttle pod that is slated to be part of an upcoming autonomous driving program to be launched later this year in San Jose, CA.

As of yet, there is no release date for MB’s urban mobility vehicle with interchangeable pods, but the automaker has said it encompasses their vision for urban transportation in 2030 and beyond. Will it take that long to reach the consumer market? So far, we haven’t seen a reliable, fully autonomous vehicle, but with Bosch and Toyota going from concept to roadway later this year and into next year, respectively, Mercedes will probably want to get a move on.

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