Concept cars can predict the future
They don't just look cool. Concept cars can be a crystal ball into the future. Here's what the most recent crop tells us.
Toyota NS4 Concept
Concept cars — futuristic, imaginative creations that automakers trot out to showcase new designs, technologies or corporate intentions — are a highlight of the auto show circuit. There are a lot of them, and the lifecycle is pretty much the same: pre-show hype, the car's unveiling, and on to the next concept. It's hard to keep track of the ones that are truly innovative and easy to forget the ones that, well, aren't.
But when you sit down and cull through more than a year's worth of concept vehicle debuts, patterns start to emerge that give a clue as to what your car may look like in the not-so-distant future. (Note: By "future" we mean the near future, and by "concept" we mean fairly functional, intact vehicles — no sketches for flying cars or wacky one-off shade-tree projects.)
Here are several things you may notice about your next car, all of which can be traced back to a concept released in the past few years.
Your Next Car Will Likely Be a Hybrid or EV
Sorry, petrol fans: If concept vehicles are any indication, everything from hot hatches to near-luxury sedans to top-of-the-range supercars will be powered by some form of a hybrid or electric drivetrain. That's right, most of the recent high-power sports concepts run on hybrid or electric power: Ferrari F70 — check; BMW i8 — check; Jaguar C-X16 — check; and Lexus LF-LC — check, again.
The more everyday fare is well-represented, too, with everything from the Nissan Ellure concept unveiled in Los Angeles in 2010 to the Mitsubishi i-MiEV II that bowed in Tokyo in 2011 to the Chevrolet Code 130R sport sedan shown at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit. All are powered by some form of gas-electric system.
There's no reason to think automakers will pull a gasoline bait-and-switch for any production models as they have in the past. While concept-vehicle tech can sometimes be pie-in-the-sky fantastic, the 54.5 mpg corporate fuel-economy (CAFE) standards set for 2025, along with tightening emissions standards worldwide, are all too real and will require that most of these vehicles actually be built as hybrids and EVs.
Your Car Will Have an Odd Number of Doors
Far-out styling is expected on concept vehicles, but one very pragmatic detail has been popping up from Shanghai to Chicago: Be they hatchbacks, shooting brakes or wagons, a whole bunch of concepts are of the 3- or 5-door variety.
Chalk it up to automakers' newfound obsession with efficiency. A rear-loading hatch is simply the easiest way to boost cargo space without sacrificing interior room. How else to explain the Hyundai i-oniq shooting brake (Geneva), the Subaru Advanced Tourer wagon (Tokyo) or the Nissan Invitation, Suzuki G70 or Audi A2 (Geneva, Tokyo and Frankfurt, respectively), plus literally dozens of other hatchbacks that have dominated the shows? And while hatches and wagons are concept fare typically shown in Europe and Asia the go-to sales demographic for the segments the Ford Fiesta ST concept (Los Angeles), Kia Trackster (Chicago) and Mercedes-Benz A-Class concept (New York) all took a bow in the United States.
Your Car Will Have Carbon Fiber and Other Lightweight Bits
Right now, carbon fiber, aluminum space frames and other super-lightweight alloy bits are expensive, very expensive. The stuff is found mostly in supercars and high-end luxury sport sedans. But thanks to technological, scientific and manufacturing advancements, those materials are getting cheaper and easier to work with. Given that cutting weight is one of the easiest ways to boost fuel efficiency — and given that fuel-economy standards are only going up, and fast — suddenly automakers have a serious incentive to find cost-effective ways to incorporate superstrong and ultralight materials.
It's why a number of concepts geared toward the everyday driver, such as the Buick Envision crossover and BMW i3 city car, have made use of carbon-fiber frames. Volkswagen used an aluminum space frame for similarly featherweight strength in its Nils concept, which was unveiled in Frankfurt in 2011.
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