12 Peeks at the Future of Cars from the Detroit Auto Show

Auto manufacturers displayed their best and brightest technology, ranging from long-range EVs to autonomous vehicle systems to concept cars with artificial intelligence, at the 2018 North American International Auto Show.
  • Auto shows are always a great place to shop for cars, but they’re an even better venue for glimpsing the future of the auto industry. And this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit was no exception.

    At this year’s show, manufacturers displayed their best and brightest technology, ranging from long-range EVs to autonomous vehicle systems to concept cars with artificial intelligence. Some of the technologies are practical evolutions of today’s products; others are, well … out there.

    Here, we offer a peek inside the minds of the auto industry’s best engineers. Is this what the future of the automobile will look like? Decide for yourself by scrolling through the following slides.

  • Guangzhou Automobile Co. (better known as GAC Motor) stole the show in Detroit, at least if we take their amazing claims at face value.

    The Chinese automaker rolled out the Enverge electric concept car, which is said to have a 373-mile all-electric range based on a 71-kWh battery. Incredibly, it is also reported to have a wireless recharge time of just 10 minutes for a 240-mile range. Enverge’s power numbers are equally impressive: 235 HP and 302 lb-ft of torque, with a 0-62 mph time of just 4.4 seconds.

    GAC, the sixth biggest automaker in China, told the Detroit audience that it would start selling cars in the US by Q4 2019. The question is whether its extraordinary performance numbers will hold up to EPA scrutiny.

    (Image source: North American International Auto Show)

  • As autonomous vehicle technology advances, automakers are already starting to examine the softer side of that market – that is, how will humans interact the machines? And what are some of the new applications for the technology? That’s where Ford’s pizza delivery car came in.

    The giant automaker started delivering Domino’s pizzas in Ann Arbor, MI, late last year with an autonomous car. In truth, the car had a driver at the wheel, sitting behind a window screen. But the actual delivery was automated: Customers were alerted by a text; a rear window rolled down; an automated voice told them what to do, and they grabbed the pie. Ford engineers were surprised to find that that the humans weren’t intimated by the technology.

    “In the testing we did, people interacted nicely with the car,” Ford autonomous car research engineer Wayne Williams told Design News. “They talked to it as if it were a robot. They waved when it drove away. Kids loved it. They’d come running up to it.” The message to Ford was clear – autonomous cars are about more than just personal transportation. Delivery services are a real possibility, too.

    (Image source: Design News)

  • Most of today’s autonomous cars use unsightly, spinning Lidar buckets atop their roofs. At the auto show, Toyota talked about an alternative Lidar technology that’s sleek and elegant.

    Designed by Toyota Research Institute and Calty Design Research, the new system eliminates the bolt-on appearance of the spinning buckets. As seen at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (photo above), the Luminar Lidar system mounts sleekly atop the roof, incorporating four high-resolution Lidar scanning heads and offering a 200 m range and a 360-degree sensing perimeter.

    The result, at least as it appears on the company’s Platform 3.0 automated vehicle, is a sensing technology that’s aesthetically pleasing and “easy to reproduce for building a fleet at scale,” Toyota said.

    (Image source: Toyota)

  • In a grand rollout, Lexus introduced a concept car called the LF-1 Limitless. The LF-1 is what we’ve all come to expect from modern concept cars – a testbed for numerous powertrains and autonomous vehicle technologies.

    It can be propelled by a fuel cell, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, all-electric or gasoline powertrain. And its automated driving system includes a “miniaturized supercomputer with links to navigation data, radar sensors, and cameras for a 360-degree view of your surroundings with predictive capabilities.” The sensing technologies are all part of a system known as “Chauffeur mode.”

    Lexus explained that the LF-1 is setting the stage for bigger things: By 2025, every new Lexus around the world will be available as a dedicated electrified model or will have an electrified option.

    (Image source: North American International Auto Show)

  • If you’re wondering what the future will bring to vehicle interiors, it’s best to examine Nissan’s Xmotion concept SUV.

    The Xmotion, which is said to combine Japanese aesthetics with SUV styling, includes seven digital screens. Three main displays join left- and right-side screens across the instrument panel. There’s also a “digital room mirror” in the ceiling and center console display. Moreover, the displays can be controlled by gestures and even eye motions, enabling drivers to focus on the task of driving. A Human Machine Interface also allows drivers to easily switch from Nissan’s ProPilot automated driving system to a manual mode.

    (Image source: North American International Auto Show)

  • If you want to know the real, near-term future of the automobile, look no further than the 2018 North American Car of the Year. This year’s Honda Accord, which won the prestigious award at the show, may be the ultimate sign of the times.

    The mid-sized Accord uses a tiny, 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine accompanied by a turbocharger, enabling it to produce a peak power of 192 HP, along with a 33-mpg combined (city + highway) efficiency rating. The Accord’s success is a sign that the replacement of engine displacement with turbocharging is a workable, maybe even winning, strategy.

    Expect to see more of that strategy in the coming years, especially if the 54.5-mpg government efficiency mandate remains intact after April 1.

    (Image source: North American International Auto Show)

  • Cadillac showed off its Super Cruise technology, which is said to be the only semi-autonomous driving system that actually monitors the driver’s attention level. If the driver is attentive, Super Cruise can do amazing things – tooling along for hours on a divided highway with no intersections, for example, while handling all the steering, acceleration and braking.

    GM describes it as an SAE Level 2 autonomous system. It’s important because it shows autonomous vehicle technology has left the lab and is making its debut on production vehicles. Super Cruise launched late in 2017 on the Cadillac CT6 (shown here).

    (Image source: Design News)

  • In a continuing effort to understand the relationship between self-driving cars and humans, Ford Motor Co. and Virginia Tech displayed an autonomous test vehicle that communicates its intent to other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Such communication is important, Ford engineers say, because “designing a way to replace the head nod or hand wave is fundamental to ensuring safe and efficient operation of self-driving vehicles.”

    During their search for the best communication method, Ford engineers ruled out displayed text because of potential language conflicts and symbols, due to a low recognition factor. Ultimately they decided on light bars. Rapidly blinking white light tells individuals that the vehicle is accelerating; solid white light indicates full autonomous mode; and side-to-side light indicates that the vehicle is yielding.

    None of this is standardized yet, but Ford says it’s working with SAE and the International Organization for Standardization to push for a standard. At the Detroit show, Ford displayed a Transit Connect van equipped with the technology.

    (Image source: Design News)

  • Volkswagen showed off its view of the future by displaying an electric compact sport utility vehicle, called the I.D. Crozz concept car.

    The vehicle features I.D. Pilot self-driving technology, which uses four laser scanners that pop up from the roof, as well as ultrasonic and radar sensors, and cameras on the front and side. Along with self-driving technology, the I.D. Crozz also features an electric powertrain that employs a rear motor as the default driving force. A separate front motor engages when needed for traction, or can be switched on for snowy conditions.

    Volkswagen is targeting the I.D. Crozz for 2020 and the I.D. Pilot self-driving technology for 2025.

    (Image source: Design News)

  • Infiniti rolled out the Q Inspiration luxury sedan concept, which combines its variable compression ratio engine with Nissan’s ProPilot semi-autonomous vehicle technology.

    Infiniti claims the engine combines “turbo charged gasoline power with the torque and efficiency of a hybrid or diesel.” Known as the VC-Turbo, the four-cylinder engine continually transforms itself, adjusting its compression ratio to optimize power and fuel efficiency.

    At the same time, the sedan features ProPilot Assist, which provides assisted steering, braking and acceleration during driving.

    (Image source: North American International Auto Show)

  • Nissan showed off the all-electric Leaf (shown above) and the compact crossover 2018 Rogue, both of which employ a technology called ProPilot Assist.

    ProPilot Assist is another of the important production-ready systems that lay the foundation for self-driving cars. It helps drivers stay centered in their lane, navigates stop-and-go traffic, maintains a set vehicle speed, and tracks the distance to the car in front of it. All of that is done with two-button operation.

    Nissan says ProPilot eases driver workload by reducing the driver’s role in acceleration, steering and braking.

    (Image source: Design News)

  • The eye-catching Concept-i vehicle provided a more extreme view of the distant future, when vehicles will be equipped with artificial intelligence (AI).

    Meant to anticipate people’s needs and improve their quality of life, Concept-i is all about communicating with the driver and occupants. An AI agent named Yui uses light, sound, and even touch, instead of traditional screens, to communicate information. Colored lights in the footwells, for example, indicate whether the vehicle is an autonomous or manual drive; projectors in the rear deck project outside views onto the seat pillar to warn drivers about potential blindspots, and a next-generation heads-up display keeps the driver’s eyes and attention on the road.

    Moreover, the vehicle creates a feeling of warmth inside by emanating sweeping lines of light around it. Toyota engineers created the Concept-i features based on their belief that “mobility technology should be warm, welcoming, and above all, fun.”

    (Image source: Design News)


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Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.


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