Concept cars can range from conventional to racy to downright wild. This year's auto shows in Detroit and Chicago offered a little bit of each. Honda and Lincoln gave show attendees a taste of the conventional, while Chevy focused on racy designs for younger buyers.
For their part, Volkswagen and Smart took aim at the future with a pair of unusual pure electric vehicles. However, if there's a common theme, it's hybridization. Even conservative automakers like Cadillac and Lexus rolled out hybrid powertrains.
Click on the picture below to see our slideshow of 17 appealing concept-car photos:
Lexus's LF-LC concept is the result of the company's effort to build "a future hybrid sport coupe." Lexus hasn't said much about the vehicle's powertrain, but the LF-LC is notable for the sculpted 3D spindle grille and its use of technology, including twin 12.3-inch LCD screens in the interior.
For a close-up look at GM's Chevy Volt, go to the Drive for Innovation site and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director, Brian Fuller. In the trip sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is taking the fire-engine-red Volt to innovation hubs across America, interviewing engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students as he blogs his way across the country.
What struck me most about this crop of concept cars is the generally conservative approach to design. My take is that when tech isn't advancing (like say 20 years ago), the designers really go to town on external body shell. These days, the progress is under the hood, in the power train etc. So perhaps that's why these concept cars look so much more like real production cars -- and in fact some of the will be soon; at least one in 2013.
Nice slide show, Chuck. I was struck by a couple new designs -- the Chrysler 700 C is certainly a new look for the minivan, and the Volkswagon Bug Roadster is also an interesting look. But I agree with Alex, much of the advances are under the hood.
Rob: I believe the issue with concept cars today is lack of money. Designers are being pushed to create concept cars that hint, maybe not so subtly, at upcoming production vehicles. The era of wildness, when designers could really let it out, is mostly back in the rear-view mirror. Honda's Accord concepts, for example, will actually be coming out later this year as production vehicles.
Frankly, chuck, I think Detroit would have done well to produce some of their previous, wilder concept cars. They got a little too stodgy.
As for hybrids, I find it somewhat less than exciting.There are shops that will install a hybrid drive train in an existing car.It is pricey, but if you have the money and desire, it can be done.So, while it is an interesting design challenge, it is not "exciting" technology.The trick is to make them efficient and inexpensive.That is where they will have an impact.For cars, the trick is to come out, continuously, with incremental improvements.A 10% improvement in effeciency across the board is a huge thing.In the US, I think about 15M to 20M cars are sold each year.If I have my figures right, that is on the order of 10% of the vehicle fleet.So, each 10% increase in effeciency is 1% overall.While there is some room for small cars like the Smart Car, the appeal there is limited.It is cute, though.I drove one once at Beaulieu, in the UK.It was fun, but I was not convinced (my car back then was an Alfa Romeo).
That makes sense, Chuck. I wonder if that will change as we now seem to be entering a period of healthy automaker profits. Or, it could be that cost-cutting measures will become a fixed position. Of course, that could change if one company broke out with something new and was rewarded with increased sales.
Chas makes a great point re aircraft being design largely for efficiency rather than looks. It'd be interesting to see what would happen if Ford and GM did concept cars stemming from a similar engineering imperative. There is actually something like this in the racing world. I couldn't find it on Google, but I recall at the car shows around five years ago, they were exhibiting a standardized chassis with roll cage etc, into which anyone could pop their own engine and drive train.
One thing I've never seen before – the I.D. Stylists and the Mechanical Designers for the Chrysler 700C have broken convention by routing a body panel parting line (between two moving doors) without following the contoured style lines of the body and windows. Typically, doors are oddly sculpted to follow the desires of the style; in this case, the doors have a straight vertical joint between them, and the styled windows and body panels swoop and cross that line without notice. It's a cool departure from conventional methods.
A well-known automotive consultant who did an extensive teardown of BMW’s i3 all-electric car said its design is groundbreaking in multiple ways. “We’ve torn down about 450 cars, and we’ve never analyzed anything like this before.”
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