A look at the concept cars that highlighted this year’s Detroit Auto Show
Stephen J. Mraz
For the second straight year, hybrids and all-electric cars dominated the automakers’ concept-car line up.
The relatively few concept cars that dotted the Detroit Auto Show this year were more functional than flashy. As you might expect, hybrids and all-electric cars seemed to dominate automakers’ displays. Several car companies, including Ford and Honda, decided not so show any concept vehicles. And several concept vehicles looked similar to current showroom offerings, at least on the outside.
The parallel hybrid drive combines an all-aluminum 152-hp gas engine mated to a continuously variable transmission, together with a 100-kW electric motor. The wheels can be turned by either the engine, motor, or both, as conditions demand. It travels up to 40 miles on a single charge and gets 100 mpg when in full hybrid mode. When fully charged and topped off, its range is 652 miles. For added luggage space, both the fuel tank and lithium-polymer battery pack, which can be recharged using household current, mount under the rear seats of this four-door sedan. And to minimize drag, a full-length surface treatment covers the underbody.
Dye-sensitized solar cells embedded in the panoramic glass roof also generate electricity without impeding visibility through the roof. The roof’s power goes to a fan that switches on to helps cool the interior when the car is parked in the sun.
On the inside, the usual gauge cluster is replaced with a thin transparent organic LED (TOLED) mounted on the unconventional steering column. The driver can adjust its angle and position on the column. The TOLED displays information in high-resolution color. Controls for the HVAC, transmission, and infotainment devices such as Bluetooth speakers use touch-screen buttons and displays on the center console.
The Beachcomber, a four-wheel drive, four-seater from Mini, is the technologically updated offspring of the company’s minimalistic Mini Moke from the 1960s. The car’s most striking features are its fold-away soft roof and lack of doors which lets passengers ride in wide-open comfort. (But removable and well-fitting stiff plastic inserts are available for the doors and roof if needed.) Despite open design and lack of metal body components, the concept car meets or exceeds all safety standards with clearly defined load paths and deformation zones, reinforced A and D pillars, and a lateral support in the rear of the car.
On the inside, there’s no need for air vents, thanks to the open design. And designers use the space once taken up by vents to mount speakers for the stereo system and add gauges useful for off-road motoring. For example, to the left of the steering wheel, a liquid-sprung compass keeps drivers informed about their direction of travel. And to the right of the steering wheel, an artificial-horizon display shows the angle of the car around its longitudinal and transverse axes.
A new all-wheel-drive transmission and turbocharged 4-cylinder engine power the Beachcomber, and both are expected to appear in the production version of the Mini Crossover. To increase storage space and simplify the design, the car travels on run-flat tires, so there is no spare tire or jack.
Buick Regal GS
Buick engineers decided to try their hand at building a high-performance version of their long-time standby, the 37-year-old Regal sedan. They started with a 255-hp turbocharged four-cylinder version of GM’s Ecotec engine and mated it to a six-speed manual, all-wheel-drive transmission. (A detuned version of this engine will be under the hood of the Regal CXL this summer.) Next they lowered the body and the car’s center of gravity to make it more stable and aerodynamic, and added Recaro racing seats and a steering wheel resembling those used in international racing. Designers also added a pair of vertical air inlets to the front end. The result: 0-to-60 times in under six seconds.
The Regal’s four-wheel independent suspension features high-performance struts that reduce torque steer and maintain negative camber through the turns. This improves tire grip on wet and dry roads, and makes for crisper, handling and more precise steering.
An Independent Drive Control lets drivers choose between normal, sport, and GS modes. This changes suspension settings, throttle response, and steering sensitivity through the variable-effort power steering. And if the driver chooses the sport setting, the instrument panel glows ice blue.
Cadillac XTS Platinum
The XTS Platinum is said to re-imagine the luxury car as a personal headquarters built for efficiency, comfort, and high-tech connectivity, not to mention mobility. A 3.6-l V6, paired with an electric drive, give the spacious all-wheel-drive, four-door sedan about 350 hp and 295-lb-ft of torque. The lithium-ion battery pack can be recharged from standard electrical outlets in about five hours, and the parallel hybrid powertrain can run in a purely electric mode for relatively short-range trips, including urban commutes.
The car rides on magneto-rheological shocks which offer faster responses and more precision than ordinary versions. The “magnetic suspension takes inputs from sensors at all four wheels to make adjustments that damp out rough spots in the road.
The interior is a mix of hand-cut and sewn laser-etched leather and other materials combined with high-tech LED touch-screen displays. And backseat passengers are not forgotten. They have full access to the vehicles infotainment and connectivity features.
The e-tron is Audi’s all-electric “uncompromising purist compact sports car.” It starts simply enough with an 880-lb lithium-ion battery pack behind the passenger compartment but ahead of the rear axle to position the center of gravity for good handling and acceleration. The pack can store 45 kw-hr of electricity, enough for 155-mile trips. The pack recharges in 11 hours using household current, but this can be shortened to two hours by using 400-V, 32-A current. Two electric motors, one for each wheel and each with its own cooling system, power the back tires with about 204 hp, enough to send the car from 0 to 100 kph (62 mph) in 5.9 sec.
The headlights use efficient LEDs in their adaptive matrix-beam modules. Sensors inform the headlights of the weather and oncoming traffic, and they react. For example, if there is oncoming traffic at night, the portion of the lamp’s high beams illuminating the occupied area of the road switch off. The headlamps also takes data from the nav system to determine if the car is going to turn. If so, the cornering portion of the lamps activate. And when it is foggy, the lamps send out a wider, more horizontal beam of light, thus reducing glare from the car’s own lights. This also eliminates the need for energy-hogging fog lights.
To save energy, a heat pump maintains interior temperatures because the electric-motors do not provide the waste heat for warming the interiors as do gas engines. Movable slats seal air inlets flush when cooling air is not needed in the engine compartment, which further reduces the already low-drag aerodynamic profile. And to keep weight down, the body of the 2,976-lb sedan is constructed of aluminum with add-on components -- doors, hoods, sidewalls, and roof -- made of fiber-reinforced plastic.
BMW Concept ActiveE
The all-electric, rear-wheel-drive Concept ActiveE from BMW features a specially developed synchronous electric motor. The motor, which is integrated directly into the rear axle, puts out 170 hp and just over 180 ft-lb of torque. As with any electric motor, the torque is available form a standstill. Electricity comes from a lithium-ion battery pack with built-in temperature regulation and liquid cooling for peak battery performance. The 3,900-lb car accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in about 4.5 sec, and its top speed, which is electronically limited, is 90 mph. The ActiveE should have a range of 100 miles. And recharging should take about 3 hr in Europe, 4.5 hr in North America.
BMW engineers exploited the electric motor for primary braking. When the driver lifts off the accelerator, the motor acts like a generator, converting the car’s kinetic energy to electricity and storing it in the battery pack. This also slows the rear wheels, so the design team made sure the brake lights illuminate during regenerative braking. They also discovered that almost 75% of the slowing maneuvers in normal city traffic can be accommodated without using the brakes. The driver backing off the accelerator is enough in most cases.
Drivers can use their mobile phones to remotely check the status of the ActiveE’s battery pack and how far the current charge will take the car, search for public charging stations, and activate the car’s auxiliary heating and air conditioning before a trip. The four-passenger sedan also has a 7 ft3 trunk.
The Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle (PHV) Prius, based on Toyota’s third generation of Prius vehicles, uses a lithium-ion battery pack that will give the car a higher top speed and range than a conventional Prius. For example, its electric-only range is 13 miles and it can hit 60 mph on just the battery pack. For longer distances, the car’s gas engine kicks in to provide the extra power and endurance to the parallel hybrid drive.
Toyota hopes to use the car to gather consumer information on how most people use such a vehicle. To that end, about 500 PHV Priuses will be test-driven by consumers in Japan, Europe, and the U.S.. Data recorders will store information such as trip durations, combined mpg, how often and when the vehicle is recharged, and whether the batteries are being partially or fully charged.
The GMC Granite, what GM calls “an industrialized urban utility vehicle,” would be the smallest GMC ever, if it gets put into production. This has led to some speculation that this vehicle was a left over Pontiac concept.
The crossover carries a 1.4-l turbocharged four-cylinder engine which sends power through a six-speed transmission. Drivers control the automatic transmission by twisting a space-saving knob. The gates and shift lever are gone.
To give the vehicle cargo flexibility and make it easy to get in and out of, the vehicles two doors on each side open like french doors; there is no pillar between them. And the right-hand seats front and back flip up and fold in toward a center console to create a long, unobstructed storage space. And when carrying just passengers, the center console has ports that accommodate the latest portable electronic devices. The car carries a metallic paint scheme, evoking its namesake, and to give the car a more urban and industrialized look, designers eliminates all body chrome.