11 Awesome Futuristic Car Concepts
By K. Thor Jensen, PC Magazine, 1 August 2015.
By K. Thor Jensen, PC Magazine, 1 August 2015.
The world of driving is changing rapidly as technology carries us forwards in leaps and bounds. The 20th century didn't see much in the way of innovation - just stylistic changes and incremental increases in fuel economy. The 21st century is poised to be very different, however.
We've already seen electric cars become a major share of the market, and alternate form factors are starting to come to prominence. It's an exciting time for innovation in the automotive industry, and engineers are working at full force to make new ideas fit for the road.
Concept cars are how big manufacturers work out ideas for the future. They may never go into production - most don't - but the technology that they introduce will be integral years down the line. Some of the most vital innovations of recent years started out as concepts, so it's not a wild prediction to say that the concept cars of today will show up on the streets of tomorrow.
In this feature, we'll spotlight 11 concepts from real auto manufacturers - no design school pipe dreams here - that really push the envelope in technology and styling. Some of them may lay the groundwork for the cars of the future, while others might be forgotten. Either way, these are some seriously sweet rides.
1. Mercedes-Benz F 015
Most concept cars that get trotted out at shows are just slightly gussied up versions of production models with some tweaks. This article will not be about those cars. Let's start off with the Mercedes-Benz F 015. This insanely modern vehicle is designed to adapt to the new world of self-driving vehicles, with interior seats that rotate around to face each other and multiple media screens along the walls. The self-driving system uses radar, ultrasonic sensors and paired cameras to navigate, and the driver can take control if necessary. Mercedes also plans to incorporate a hydrogen fuel cell that can be charged by parking it atop a special pad. [Mercedes-Benz F 015 at Mercedes-Benz website]
2. Toyota FV2
One of the biggest shifts in automotive design is around the form factor of the car itself. No longer does a vehicle have to conform to the standard phenotypes of compact, sedan, or truck. A concept that illustrates this in grand (and a little wild) style is Toyota's FV2, which premiered at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, but was also at last year's New York Auto Show. This three-wheeled contraption dispenses with traditional steering entirely, allowing the driver to adjust course by leaning their torso, much like a motorcycle. It's doubtful we'll see these on the roads anytime soon (who wants to stand up and drive?), but it's certainly a unique design.
3. Mercedes-Benz G-Code
Power is a core issue of many concept cars. With fossil fuels on the way out, automakers are looking for new and better ways to keep us on the road. The Mercedes-Benz G-Code, which was unveiled at the opening of the company's Product Engineering Centre in Beijing, is coated with "multi-voltaic" paint, which not only absorbs solar radiation to transform into power, but also picks up an electrostatic charge from wind. Exactly how much usable energy a car can get from the wind is up for discussion, but the idea is damn cool. Throw in a grille inspired by the design of the Starship Enterprise and you get a concept that captured our hearts.
4. Chevrolet FNR
Most of the self-driving car concepts we've seen so far have been relatively utilitarian in design - after all, if you're not actually controlling it, who cares if it looks good? Chevrolet's Shanghai design studio threw all that out with the FNR, which is an autonomous vehicle that truly looks like something out of the future. Dual swing-up dragonfly doors with aggressive angles provide entry to the cabin, which looks like something out of Tron. The car doesn't use a key to start - instead, a retinal scan cues the electric engine to power up. If you do want to take the wheel in your own hands, be warned: there is no wheel. Gesture controls replace the standard methods of steering on a completely virtual dashboard. [Chevrolet FNR at General Motors]
5. EDAG Light Cocoon
Concept cars try to re-invent pretty much every aspect of the vehicle, from the inside out. The Light Cocoon from German manufacturer EDAG focuses on one area in particular: the body. As Autoblog detailed in March, the parts that make up the car's frame were created by 3D printers and assembled into a complex structure inspired by biological formations. This design has been formulated to deliver maximum tensile strength and impact resistance while using a minimal amount of raw material. Over the frame is stretched a lightweight, waterproof Texapore Softshell fabric that is slightly translucent, letting internal lights shine through to give the vehicle a unique appearance.
6. Chevrolet Chapparal 2X Vision GT
When you're talking futuristic cars, "laser-powered engine" should make you start to salivate. The Chapparal 2X Vision GT was originally designed in the virtual space as a racer for Sony's benchmark Gran Turismo series, but engineers at the company took up the challenge and brought it into the real world. The aggressively designed race car runs on an engine that harnesses a 671kW laser into a shroud that creates shockwaves in an air generator, bringing the car to a top speed of 240 miles per hour. Needless to say, the tech to make this engine in the real world isn't likely to be street legal in the near future, but it's a sweet idea.
7. Renault KWID
Concept cars often play off trends of the day to inspire new features, and the KWID from Renault, which debuted at the Dubai Auto Show in 2014, takes the tech world's fascination with drone aircraft into the auto market. The boxy, two-wheel drive vehicle comes with a "Flying Companion," a camera-bearing helicopter that you can release from its housing in the back to scout out traffic, take photographs, or just pester people. The interior is equally futuristic, with an elastomer mesh that holds driver and passengers in comfort and safety.
8. Toyota Fun VII
Although many of the cars on this list push the envelope when it comes to the guts of the vehicle, the Toyota Fun VII targets people who care more about the outside wrapper. The Fun VII is covered inside and out with touch-sensitive display panels, allowing the driver to change the car's "paint job" with the touch of a button. These panels work to display all kinds of augmented-reality information while you're driving - navigation is projected on the windshield like a map in a Grand Theft Auto game, and the car can link up with other Fun VIIs in the area to share traffic data and more.
9. Rinspeed Budii
Smaller European car makers often get pretty whimsical with their concept design, but the Budii from Frank Rinderknecht of Rinspeed pushes that envelope. We're all familiar with self-driving cars at this point, but the Budii mixes things up to a silly degree. Typically, the vehicle (modelled after the BMW i3 hatchback) navigates itself, but if you want to take the wheel, a robotic arm will bring it to you - even if you're in the passenger seat! Other wacky features include a telescoping camera on the roof that can create 3D maps of area terrain and a pair of two-wheeled electric vehicles that live in pods on the Budii's side and can be released for urban exploration.
10. Mitsubishi MMR25
It's instructive to remember that automakers don't just make cars for the public. They also have divisions for professional drivers, producing just a few items a year. Mitsubishi's rally team dropped the MMR25 at the Los Angeles Auto Show a few years ago, and it demonstrates a new vision for all-terrain racing. Each tire is independently powered by nine in-wheel electric motors that allow it to drive omnidirectionally, with 360-degree cameras feeding video into the cockpit. Powered by an array of lithium-ion batteries that can go 1,000 miles on a single charge, this could be a beast if it ever made it into competition.
11. Volkswagen Sport Coupe Concept GTE
A truly committed driver wants one thing: to be intimately connected to their car, to have total communication and mastery of it. Sure, steering wheels and pedals do their job, but technology can do better. A recent concept car from Volkswagen takes the man/machine interface and kicks it up a notch. The Sport Coupe Concept GTE uses a smartwatch or armband to collect biometric data on your mental and emotional state, and uses it to modify route information to give you the ideal driving experience. Stressed out? It'll recommend you take back streets instead of hitting traffic. If you're not quite ready for a purely self-driving car, this is a pretty interesting compromise.
Top image: Mercedes-Benz G-Code. Credit: Mercedes-Benz.
[Source: PC Magazine. Edited. Top image and some links added.]