Concept cars take the runway at the industry's premier show in Detroit.
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Carmakers are looking backward in time, at environmental impact, and even to aircraft to ignite the spark of consumer interest. But luxury is still king for many designers working to bring all the comforts of home, and then some, to our four-wheeled ego extensions.
NISSAN'S ROLLING XBOX
At first glance, the Urge looks like a Lego-built dune buggy snapped together by a gigantic child. But on closer inspection, the car is more than futuristic eye candy.
Nissan describes its concept as "both driver's car and gamer's fantasy, through its motorcycleinspired look to the racinginspired cockpit and overhead." Narrow fenders, cycle-style taillights, cutout door panels, a deconstructed interior with frameand-mesh seats, Formula-1 inspired steering wheel, palm-sized shifter, and visible passenger-side front air bags are some of this concept's trademarks.
The ultimate homage to video freedom, an Xbox 360 video game system complete with folddown display (from the rearview mirror) uses the vehicle's steering wheel and pedals as game controls. Urge boasts a spun-aluminum roof that runs from the center console through the engine bay and aluminum, carbon-fiber composite construction. The quick-close manual top is made of canvas.
Featured electronics include cell phone and MP3 player docks (cell phone acts as intelligent key to start the vehicle), navigation system placed in front of the driver, five customizable driverinfo screens (including HVAC, navi, audio, and suspension/ performance tuning), and a gaming system channeled through the car's speakers. A see-through glass hood and cutaway door panels give automotive voyeurs a peak into the car's private parts.
MAXIMIZING THE MINI
Looking like an undersized ambulance on its way to the slopes, the Mini concept combines sporty performance and flexible use of space. Innovative roof carriers and cargo box systems make this a rolling storage locker for the weekend warrior.
Designers focused on making it easy to load and enter the vehicle. All the doors have parallelogram kinematic joints and springs that let them swivel to the side and to the front in one movement, ensuring maximum opening space. The rear sliding windows open electronically.
An adjustable cargobox with a transparent cover separates the passenger area and the luggage compartment. The rear section of the roof opens for easy loading.
The sports utility box behind the open rear side window hooks into place. Flaps on either side of the box allow access from outside, inside, and for cargo to pass through. The roof box has a similar function. A black neoprene band extends along the side-sills and wheel cutouts. Dropping the B-pillar gives this prototype some of the flair usually reserved for coupes and convertibles.
"Floating Elements" describes the suspended (front-center console-mounted) seats and free-hovering dashboard with Center Speedo a revolving, circular digital/analog display. The digital side displays navi-system information. At the press of a button, the Center Speedo turns 180° to display water and engine-oil temp, as well as oil pressure. A third steering wheel spoke at 6 o'clock holds an additional temperature/ altitude meter.
There's room for four passengers and the front seats swivel to the side for easy access to the rear. The rear seats fold level with the luggage compartment floor.
The interior is finished in white leather and aluminum-coated glass fiber accentuates the door panels and linings.
"YOUTH"ANIZING THE VOLVO
This design concept gives an indication of what the new Volvo C30 will look like at its Paris unveiling in September. The sporty two-door, four-seater with a glass tailgate sports contrasting colors of Quite White and Very Bronze. Well-defined wheel arches and sloping roofline produce a fast silhouette, emphasized by the boat shape of the glasshouse.
The car's rounded rear shoulders and horseshoe-shaped taillights further enhance its appearance. "The light pattern is so unusual that you'll never be in any doubt of which car you have in front of you," says Volvo Cars Design Director Steve Mattin. The glass tailgate was inspired by the classic Volvo P1800ES and the SCC concept.
Individual rear seats with lots of legroom make the car a full four-seater. The rear seats fold flat for cargo. The C30 has Volvo's Premium Sound system, with 5x130-W digital ICE Power amplifier from Alpine, Dolby Pro logic II Surround, and 10 Dynaudio speakers.
The powerplant is an in-line five-cylinder, 2.4-liter turbocharged engine with 260 hp and max torque of 350 Nm.
The concept is part of Volvo's C30 Project which hopes to give a young, dynamic customer group its "own" Volvo.
MITSUBISHI'S STREETSMART CONCEPT-CT
The key to the Concept-CT is the Mitsubishi In-wheel Electric Vehicle (MIEV) hybrid powertrain. The sleek high-performance scooters popular in Japanese urban centers inspired the design theme.
The 102.4-in. wheelbase falls between today's subcompact and compact models. However, the 149.6-in. length makes the Concept-CT better suited to congested urban environments. The long wheelbase relative to vehicle length, combined with 20-in. wheels that are thrust out to the corners, yields a stable stance. The LED headlamps and tail lamps look as if their beams emanate from a single source rather than multiple bulbs. A large, wraparound windshield provides excellent visibility. The rear doors open butterfly style without a center pillar to provide maximum interior access. And the rear hatch splits horizontally, glass hatch on top, tailgate below.
The designers created a whole new type of small-car platform to take advantage of the MIEV powertrain. A rear-midship layout places the gasoline engine behind the rear passengers but ahead of the rear-axle line. This configuration allows for optimum weight distribution, low center of gravity, and a small yaw-inertia moment (quick steering response).
The rear-midship layout allows for a large frontal crush zone and greatly reduces the potential for engine intrusion into the cabin. Batteries sit under the rear floor and in the front of the vehicle. The fuel tank is under the front floor.
The series/parallel hybrid drive uses a special transmission to harness the 50-kW (67 hp) output of a 1.0-liter three-cylinder gasoline engine to drive the rear wheels and the generator. Engine power is 20 kW/wheel. A 40-kW (54-hp) generator charges highenergydensity, lithium-ion batteries. Total combined peak power is 100 kW (134 hp).
The MIEV system provides economical cruising and high-capacity power for short bursts of acceleration. A regenerative brake system charges batteries from energy that would otherwise be lost as heat through the brake discs. Each wheel houses an electric motor, effectively providing computer-controlled allwheel drive (AWD) that can transfer optimal traction independently to each tire.
The instrument panel's wideformat "wall-to-wall" screen displays information for navigation, rear/sideview mirror functions, and entertainment functions (when in park). Flat-screen gages sit well forward of the driver for optimal visibility. In addition, a flat screen in the center panel displays climate control and audio information. The center console houses a fingerprint-reading security key and computer touch pad interface.
CHRYSLER IMPERIAL . . . THE POOR MAN'S ROLLS ROYCE?
The 2006 Imperial represents Chrysler's flagship.
Designers of the Imperial took cues from the classic Imperials of the 30s and 50s, as well as early concept cars, from the Chrysler d'Elegance and Falcon to the more recent Chrysler Chronos and Firepower.
The Imperial is mounted on a 123-in. wheelbase, 17 in. longer and 6 in. higher than the 300 sedan. The roof is pulled rearward to enlarge the cabin and enhance the appearance of luxury from the side view. And passengers sit nearly 7 in. higher. The higher hood and deck, combined with large 22-in. aluminum wheels, give the boxy Imperial a striking resemblance to the Rolls Royce Phantom.
The V-shaped front end is dominated by a central upright radiator grille. A polished molding, extending from the grille header to the base of the windshield, bisects the hood plane.
Polished aluminum parabolic pods house the projector-beam headlights. At the rear, individual circular taillights with floating outer rings combine modern LED lighting with a look evocative of "gun sight" taillights. Separate slender LED lamp units provide park, turn, and back-up lamp functions.
The raised deck lid is also V-shaped and accented by signature silver wings. Body ornamentation is confined to the upper bumper bars, sideview mirrors, side-window reveals, and sculpted door handles.
The wide doors reveal the absence of the customary B-pillar. The high-contrast four-passenger cabin is finished in leather and suede complemented by California burl wood and metallic accents.
A simple touch pad with intuitive controls mounted on the suspended center console armrest lets the driver adjust radio, climate, and navigation functions. The driver air-bag/horn pad is fixed, allowing the radio and cruise-control switches to remain settled in the same position regardless of the turning steering wheel.
Rear passengers can recline their individual seats while watching different movies, and the rear seat headsets store at the touch of a button.
DODGE FLEXES NEW CHALLENGER
Designers at Chrysler Group's West Coast Pacifica Studio drew up a short list of muscle car attributes: distinctly American styling, mega horsepower, minimal signature lines, aggressive airgrabbing grille, and bold colors and graphics.
The resulting concept, which draws upon the initial 1970 model as the icon of the Series, sits on a 116-in. wheelbase, 6 in. longer than the original. But its width is 2 in. greater, giving the car a squat, tougher stance. The signature side-view accent linedesigners call it the "thrust" lineis higher up on the body, running horizontal through the fender and door and kicking up just forward of the rear wheel.
Five-spoke chrome wheels 20 in., front; 21 in., rear sit flush with the body side. Wheel openings are tight against the tires, with the rearward edges trailing off.
One of the key qualities of the original car the designers wanted to retain is the exceptionally wide look of both the front and back ends. To this end, they boosted both the front and rear tracks to 64 and 65 in., respectively, wider than the LX, wider even than the 1970 model. To realize the long horizontal hood the designers deemed essential, the front overhang was also increased.
The front end features the signature Dodge crossbar grille and four recessed headlamps. Diagonally staggered in plan view, the outboard lamps are set forward, the "six-shooter" inboard lamps slightly rearward. Illuminating the rear is a full-width neon-lit tail lamp. Bumpers are clean (no guards), body-color, and flush with the body. The hood reprises the original Challenger " performance hood" and its twin diagonal scoops, now with functional butterfly-valve intakes. Designed to showcase the modern techniques used in fabricating the car, what looks like painted racing stripes is actually the exposed carbon fiber of the hood.
The Challenger is a genuine four-passenger car. Compared to the original, the greenhouse is longer, the windshield faster, and the side glass narrower. All glass is set flush with the body without moldings, another touch the original designers could only wish for. The car is a genuine two-door hardtop no B-pillar with the belt line ramping up assertively at the quarter window just forward of the wide C-pillar.
Exterior details one might expect, like a racing-type gas cap, hood tie-down pins, louvered backlite, and bold bodyside striping didn't make the "cut."
Designers felt these would detract from the monochromatic body form. But tucked under the rear bumper are the "gotta have" twin-rectangle pipes of the dual exhausts.
In contrast to the bright Orange Pearl exterior, the interior is black relieved by satin silver accents and narrow orange bands on the seat backs. As with the original car, the instrumental panel pad sits high, intersected on the driver's side by a trapezoidal cluster containing three circular analog gauge openings.
These are flanked by a larger circular "gage" that is actually a computer, so the driver can see top overall speed, quarter-mile time and speed, and top speed for each of the gears. The floor console, its center surface tipped toward the driver, is fitted with a "pistol grip" shifter to master the six-speed manual tranny.
The front seats boast hefty bolsters much like those found in the Dodge SRT Series. The trim covers' horizontal pleats or "fales" provide just a hint of that "70s" look.
This Hemi-powered performance coupe is worthy heir to a classic muscle car.